ComEd Announces $450,000 to Launch Skilled Trades Program in Partnership with Four Chicago Catholic High Schools

Set to launch in fall, Powering Our Future program will expand STEM and skilled trades training for up to 1,000 Chicago students

CHICAGO (April 6, 2022) – ComEd, in collaboration with Big Shoulders Fund and United Way Metro Chicago, today launched Powering Our Future – a new initiative that will expand skilled trades and STEM training at four Chicago Catholic high schools. To remove barriers to entry to energy and skilled trades careers, a new $450,000 investment by ComEd and parent company Exelon will pilot the program in schools located in historically underserved communities.

Building on expansive STEM programming ComEd supports at Chicago Public Schools, this initiative will expand career pathways for women and minorities, who are underrepresented in STEM industries. Thanks to ComEd’s investment and support from local philanthropy, the new Powering Our Future program is set to reach up to 1,000 students over the next three years.

“Women and people of color continue to be vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, but though our investments in workforce training and STEM education, we are looking to change that,” said Terence Donnelly, president and COO at ComEd. “At ComEd, our goal is to ensure our workforce matches the diversity of the communities we are privileged to serve, and that our ongoing and critical infrastructure investment serves as a catalyst to create jobs for local residents.”

Powering Our Future will combine in-classroom and hands-on technical experience to help more students explore possibilities and build skills to work in key skilled trades in the energy/utilities, advanced manufacturing, and technology sectors. Powering Our Future is set to launch at four Chicago Catholic high schools in the Big Shoulders Fund network this fall:

  1. Josephinum Academy in Wicker Park
  2. Leo High School in Auburn Gresham
  3. Our Lady of Tepeyac High School, serving Lawndale
  4. St. Francis de Sales High School, serving East Side and South Chicago

“Big Shoulders Fund is thrilled to partner with ComEd and United Way Metro Chicago to not only build students’ knowledge of skilled trade fields, but also provide pathways to a wide variety of college, training, and career opportunities,” said Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale. “The four Big Shoulders Fund high schools participating prepare students to go on to become our city’s future workforce and leaders, and this program provides an important new tool to enhance that work and expand potential career paths for them to pursue.”

The program will introduce students to career pathways in the energy, utility and related sectors. Big Shoulders Fund will work with school staff to implement a new curriculum this fall – with in-classroom instruction led by current STEM teachers and staff, and ComEd supporting hands-on experiences including field trips, work-based learning, mentoring and technical classes. The program will serve as a steppingstone to advanced training by ComEd, including the CONSTRUCT Training Academy, and programs offered in partnership with Dawson Technical Institute of Kennedy-King College.

“United Way of Metro Chicago is excited to connect high school students in our Neighborhood Networks in Auburn Gresham and South Chicago with the Powering Our Future program,” said Sean Garrett, President and CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago. “Leveraging our coalitions in the Neighborhood Networks will help enroll more students in this vital program, providing pathways to future careers and ultimately building stronger, more equitable communities.”

The four schools are located in historically disadvantaged communities, within the Big Shoulders Fund network. With two of the pilot schools serving an all-girls population, this program also brings forward a first-of-its-kind opportunity to expand skilled trades-focused training for women.

“Building a skilled and diverse labor force to power our electrical needs today and tomorrow starts with investments in our young people,” said Terry McGoldrick, President of IBEW Local 15. “We applaud ComEd’s efforts to develop partnerships with local schools and community partners that will enhance skill building and expose more of our young people to the possibility of good paying jobs in the electric trades.”

Advancements in clean energy technology are expected to fuel new jobs for the future, with the Center for Energy Workforce Development estimating 2,000 new jobs in utilities in the Midwest region in the next three years alone. To ensure that future clean energy jobs go to diverse local residents – ComEd is taking steps to address inequities in STEM. As little as 9 percent of STEM jobs are occupied by Black Americans, with 7 percent by Latinos, and 28 percent by women.

Powering Our Future builds on the success of current ComEd education and job training programs, including: the Chicago Builds immersive skilled trades program for juniors and seniors; Create A Spark – a four-year STEM training and mentorship program for high school students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools (CPS); and STEM Home Labs, a leadership series designed to overcome barriers to STEM related careers. Last year alone, these programs helped reach over 1,000 students across the city of Chicago and involved participation by 174 ComEd mentors.

Over the next few months, Big Shoulders Fund will work with school communities to host virtual and community meetings where students can learn more about the program and how participating would enhance their own college and career plans. For more information about the Powering Our Future program and other STEM education initiatives, please visit ComEd’s website.

About ComEd

ComEd is a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corporation (NASDAQ: EXC), a Fortune 200 energy company with approximately 10 million electricity and natural gas customers – the largest number of customers in the U.S. ComEd powers the lives of more than 4 million customers across northern Illinois, or 70 percent of the state’s population. For more information visit and connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.    


As many of us adjust to the new norm of working and learning from home, Big Shoulders Fund and our network of 72 schools have quickly shifted how we educate our students in the most effective, challenging, and creative ways. View weekly highlights below.


Big Shoulders Fund Joins Chicago Initiative to Bridge the Digital Divide for Students in Need with Support from Citadel Partners

New $1 Million Commitment from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin and COO Gerald Beeson Expands Access to Free High-Speed Internet for Thousands of Catholic School Students

(CHICAGO) November 17, 2020 – Big Shoulders Fund, an independent charitable organization that serves more than 70 under-resourced Catholic schools in Chicago, today announced a contribution from Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin and COO Gerald Beeson to fund participation in ‘Chicago Connected.’ Launched earlier this year by public, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, ‘Chicago Connected’ is one of the largest and longest-term efforts in the nation focused on providing free, high-speed internet service to qualifying students in their households.

With today’s announcement, nearly 3,000 additional K-12 students are eligible to participate in the program developed to dramatically increase internet access for students in need. The four-year broadband access initiative aims to address the digital equity gap and help build a permanent public support system for families in Chicago. 

Ken Griffin, the lead convener and funder of ‘Chicago Connected,’ and Gerald Beeson, a board and executive committee member of Big Shoulders Fund, came together to provide the $1 million in funding required to extend the reach of the ‘Chicago Connected’ program. As a result of their commitment, qualifying families will receive access to high-speed internet at home enabling students to access online learning, submit college applications, build career skills, apply for jobs and stay up-to-date on current events.

“For more than three decades, Big Shoulders Fund has worked to ensure inner city students have access to quality education regardless of economic circumstance – and in today’s world, access to internet is integral to student success,” said Mr. Beeson. “Expanding the ‘Chicago Connected’ program will open opportunities for these students far beyond their studies.”

Josh Hale, President and CEO of Big Shoulders Fund, added, “While the digital divide has persisted for some time, the pandemic has brought it into sharp focus. We know that internet access improves the educational and economic outcomes for our students and I’m grateful that more of them will have the tools they need to succeed during the pandemic and beyond.”

The work of the Big Shoulders Fund to provide high-quality education to students has never been more important. Amid the pandemic, Big Shoulders Fund increased its efforts to support its nearly 20,000 students – nearly 80 percent of whom are Black and Latinx and 70 percent of whom are low-income – to ensure these students continue to have access to a high-quality academic experience. Its participation in the ‘Chicago Connected’ initiative represents the next step in providing students of all backgrounds equal access to high-quality education, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance.

According to a report released by education advocacy organization Kids First Chicago, an estimated 110,000 Chicago children under the age of 18 lack access to broadband. An estimated 3,000 of those students are served by Big Shoulders Fund.

Those students will now have access to this program, which will provide high-speed internet for households by directly paying for internet service for families that are most in need. The schools served by Big Shoulders Fund will use priority indicators including free and reduced lunch eligibility to identify qualifying students.

About Chicago Connected

Launched in June 2020 by Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, along with Citadel Founder and CEO Ken Griffin and a variety of public, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, Chicago Connected is a groundbreaking program that will provide free high-speed internet service to approximately 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students. This first-of-its-kind program will be one of the largest and longest-term efforts by any city to provide free, high-speed internet over the course of four years to increase internet access for students. For more information, visit


Accessibility to food continues to be a challenge for families impacted by COVID-19. To help relieve this burden, Big Shoulders Fund will be distributing 10,000 meals to families in need in honor of Father’s Day, ensuring that families in these communities can share a hot meal together to celebrate the holiday. Meals will be provided by local restaurant and food service partners and distributed at thirteen locations in Northwest Indiana. Since the start of Big Shoulders Fund’s COVID-19 relief efforts, they have distributed more than 2,250 meals to families in need at Aquinas Catholic School in Northwest Indiana in collaboration with community restaurant partner Veteran’s Café.

Saturday’s meal distribution is made possible thanks to a generous donation from Bruce White, Founder and Chairman of Merrillville, Indiana-based White Lodging, and his wife Beth, who are both long-time supporters of Big Shoulders Fund. The Bruce and Beth White Family Foundation funded the expansion of Big Shoulders Fund’s programming to 20 schools in the Catholic Diocese of Gary in the fall of 2019.

WHEN:             Saturday, June 20, 2020 12 -2 pm


Holy Angels Cathedral School

640 Tyler St. (Gary)

  • Meal Distribution 12 – 2 pm
    • Restaurant/Food Service Partner: White Lodging School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Purdue Northwest

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana

2700 W. 19th Ave. (Gary)

  • Meal Distribution 12 – 2 pm
  • Restaurant/Food Service Partner: White Lodging School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Purdue Northwest

Community HealthNet + Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Northwest Indiana

6100 Broadway (Merrillville)

  • Meal Distribution 12 – 2 pm
  • Restaurant/Food Service Partner: Veteran’s Café and Grill (Merrillville, IN)

Additional Meal Distribution Sites serving 12 – 2 pm

  • St. John the Baptist School – 1844 Lincoln Avenue (Whiting)
  • Bishop Noll Institute – 1519 Hoffman St. (Hammond)
  • Purdue Northwest Campus – 2300 173rd (Hammond)
  • St. Casimir School – 4329 Cameron Ave. (Hammond)
  • St. John Bosco School – 1231 171st Pl. (Hammond)
  • Boys & Girls Club of NWI – 2009 138th St. (East Chicago)
  • Nativity of Our Savior School – 2929 Willowcreek Rd. (Portage)
  • Notre Dame School – 1000 Moore Rd. (Michigan City)
  • Queen of All Saints – 1715 E. Barker Ave. #5336 (Michigan City)

Big Shoulders Fund COVID-19 Emergency Fund

We are in uncharted territory. I have no insights to offer on the COVID-19 crisis, except that I know it is only by working together that we will make it through this. 

While the fear and impact associated with the crisis is everywhere, I am amazed as I watch the American spirit of helping our neighbors in need and a can-do attitude that has pulled us through many challenges shift into high gear. In turn, our team here at Big Shoulders Fund and the many supporters I have heard from have been undeterred and focused even more on our mission.

The number of calls and emails we have received at Big Shoulders Fund offering help with food, school materials, and emergency scholarships for those truly living on the margins is uplifting. Fear is not winning. Our core American value of helping those in need is alive and well.  It seems President Franklin Roosevelt’s call to action – the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself! – continues to move us today. 

And so, in response to what we are hearing from the communities we serve and from people who want to help, we have set up the COVID-19 Emergency Fund, with a goal of raising at least $3M. This Emergency Fund will enable us to do everything in our power to ensure our students continue to have food and opportunities to learn and thrive, and to help our schools operate in this new reality.  This Emergency Fund will assist with everything from food cards, launching and investing in e-learning programs, and scholarships for families losing their jobs.

Please help us #LeapIntoAction for the 75 schools and 20,000 students we serve by donating today to the Big Shoulders Fund COVID-19 Emergency Fund. You will not only fulfill a need of our school, students, and families, but most importantly, you will provide hope that we will get through this together!

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your loved ones and with our country as we pull together, even tighter, the many pieces of cloth that created the quilt of our great United States of America.  Thank you for your continued partnership and support for the 20,000 children we serve!

Written by: Big Shoulders Fund President and CEO Josh Hale