In memory of Jill Meinzer, CCH increases awards in college scholarship program that’s grown through long-time donor support

A generous donation given in memory of the late Jill L. Meinzer has allowed the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to increase its four-year college scholarship awards, to $3,500 a year.

Jill’s family gave a $30,000 gift in her name in spring 2019. By early 2020, Jill’s family had made gifts to eight youth-serving programs, including a second substantial gift to the CCH college scholarship program.

“Jill wanted to support youth in Chicago who want to get the education and training to further their lives,” said her sister, Karen Whitaker, an Indiana resident. She and Jill’s other two sisters and their parents planned the gifts in Jill’s memory.

Jill L. Meinzer

“This generous gift in honor of Jill allowed CCH to increase its annual scholarship award for the first time in five years,” said Patricia Nix-Hodes, director of the CCH Law Project, which manages the scholarship program.

“It will have significant impact: Scholarships assist 20 students a year, most of them self-supporting. Next year’s seven freshmen were thrilled to learn that they will receive $14,000 in assistance over the course of four years.”

CCH placed the Meinzer gift in a new reserve fund that ensures the scholarships – also supported by designated donations and several grants – will remain fully funded in coming years.

Jill’s commitment to education and assisting underserved youth reflects the values shown throughout her life, her family said. Jill and her twin sister, Joanne Hubbard Herman, were among six valedictorians of their high school class in Carmel, Indiana. Jill earned her college degree with honors in computer science and mathematics from Purdue University in 1987, and then moved to Chicago to launch her STEM career.

As her family wrote, “Here, Jill embarked on a challenging and successful career in the telecommunications industry with Rockwell International. In more recent years, she was Vice President of Technical Services for ARRIS International, providing strategic direction for operations, as well as leading over 300 managers, engineers, technical trainers, and technical writers across the globe.

“While her job kept her tremendously busy, Jill was firmly committed to helping others along the way through educational and mentorship activities. She took great pride in encouraging and supporting new colleagues, focusing particularly on women in the early phases of their career. Jill held leadership roles in several community and industry organizations, including P.E.O., a philanthropic educational organization for women, and with Women in Cable Television.

“Within a year of being diagnosed with renal cell cancer, Jill lost her courageous battle in January 2019. However, several years prior to this she had already put into motion a scholarship fund that would benefit foster kids, homeless families, and anyone in the Chicago area that was seeking education to create a better life.

“In addition to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Jill’s fund has already committed close to $6 million over the next five years to the following Chicago organizations: SOS Children’s Village, Grow Your Own, CARA, La Casa Norte, Chicago Scholars, Foster Care To Success, and the Chicago Posse Foundation. Each of these organizations is critical to helping special segments of the Chicago population that so desperately need compassion, hope, and resources. Jill’s mission was simply to pay it forward and make a difference in the lives of others.”

Jill Meinzer with her nieces and nephews

Jill L. Meinzer, 53, a resident of Chicago and Naperville, is survived by sisters Karen, Kathy, and Joanne, and their parents Sally and James Hubbard. Jill is remembered as “the favorite aunt,” beloved by nine nieces and nephews whom she hosted for fun-filled Chicago weekends.

Support given in memory of Jill Meinzer mirrors the dedicated support of donors and foundations that have expanded the scholarship program over 16 years. Gifts to the scholarship program are used only to fund student awards, assisting a total of 75 students by next school year.

Scholarships were launched in 2004 with CCH’s first $2,000 award to a Dominican University student. Patricia Rivera, then the director of the homeless education program in the Chicago Public Schools, worked with the Law Project to create and fund the scholarship. Pat has supported the program generously every year since.

By its second year, the program assisted two more students, pledging renewable $2,000 grants until they finished their degrees. Both young men later graduated from Kendall College and Northern Illinois University.

The late Rhonda Purwin was an early benefactor. Then a CPS teacher, Rhonda wrote a reference for one of our 2005 winners. Known for helping her culinary students win significant college scholarships, Rhonda began informally advising the young program.

Within two years, she funded Elaine’s Hope, a $10,000 challenge grant given in her late mother’s memory. Rhonda remained active with the program until her death last year.

Robin Lavin, President of The Osa Foundation, has funded grants and advised the scholarship program since 2007. This included Robin initiating the “laptop challenge,” which funds a laptop for any student earning a “B” average or better after their freshmen year. At Robin’s behest – as students these days navigate online learning during the coronavirus pandemic – Osa will fund laptops for all 12 freshmen and sophomores this summer.

The scholarship program also has been funded by five generous grants from the Sisters of Charity, BVM, based in Dubuque, Iowa, at the recommendation of Rose Mary Meyer, BVM. It also has been supported since 2012 with generous grants from the Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund, given by the Wohlers Family Foundation in memory of the late Des Plaines elementary educator. CCH also appreciates a recent scholarship grant from the DBZCAR Family Fund.

Associated Bank sponsors the scholarship awards event, as recommended by Patrick Hickey, an Associated director and CCH Board member.

Pat and Julie Hickey are also program donors. CCH is also grateful for long-time support from Jane and Howard Tiffen, Tom and Anne Lysaught, Ana and Edward Williams, Mary Kessler, and Barbara Chasnoff and Thomas Johnson.

“Our scholars appreciate the support of donors and funders that, over the years, have helped these hard-working students realize their goal of affording a college degree,” said Ms. Nix-Hodes.

The CCH scholarship program assists students throughout college. More than half the students are self-supporting, so CCH scholars average four and a half years to complete their bachelor’s degrees. CCH extends its assistance if a student requires an extra semester or year to complete their bachelor’s. The program boasts a cumulative graduation rate of 50%, far exceeding national rates for students from low-income backgrounds.

Annual book awards of $500 are also given to alumni who continue to graduate school. This fall, six alums will attend graduate school, studying for master’s degrees in architecture, art therapy, business, and social work, as well as law school and a PhD sociology program.

– Anne Bowhay, Media