Dara Munson: Changing Children’s Lives






As a new year begins, I am inspired by three women who share their talents in impactful ways. Beginning this week with Chicago Child Care Society CEO, Dara Munson, I will be profiling people who persevere.

In the second installation of this series, we will visit with Bonnie Pacelli. Bonnie helps people tell their stories—a gift we could all give to our families—and I look forward to sharing her words with you.

The series ends with inspirational dance instructor Gloria Alaya. She will help us kick off 2017 with a better sense of awareness of our bodies and connection to our senses.

Here’s to a positive, giving, and exhilarating new year!


Dara Munson.

Dara Munson.

“With violence in the world today becoming the norm for our children, how do we supply the love, opportunity, and happiness that they need?”

Answering that question is Dara Munson’s mission.

The current CEO of CCCS arrived in Chicago a year ago from Detroit—there she headed Big Brothers Big Sisters, later serving as COO of the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan, and holding an executive role at United Way. Considered “one of the young leaders to watch” in the Midwest by several publications, here in Chicago she is concentrating on building partnerships and collaborations with similar organizations that will forge the continuation of services for at-risk children and families across the city.

Her enthusiasm and obvious joy in her work has motivated new volunteers to join her mission. Like these volunteers, she finds time frequently to read to the children in Chicago Child Care centers.

One of her great pleasures was working with the late Peggy Carr, a Child Care board member for over 75 years. Peggy, who passed away in November at age 103, loved to garden at the Hyde Park and Englewood centers with the children, and attended almost all board meetings for the organization up until the end of her life.

“Peggy’s spirit was so pure and true. She was an absolute jewel to the community and lived the rule that as the community changes you have to stay abreast.”


Dara, at right, with the late Peggy Carr.

Dara, at right, with the late Peggy Carr.

“How can one person help? There are many opportunities to provide direct service for children in the city, whether as a mentor, to volunteer to read to children, or more broadly as a board member of an organization where you work on policy and strategy.

“If you become discouraged, you have to stop and realize that the children in our communities have limitless potential. When you find your spot, whether with Chicago Child Care or another organization, and you begin to work with the children, you will have a true reason to hope.”


Exploration in the classroom at Chicago Child Care.

Exploration in the classroom at Chicago Child Care.

Munson studied juvenile justice and had thought at one time that she wanted to become a judge.

“Tragically, there are so many things that happen to families. I remember one young man who was adjudicated originally for being truant before committing more serious crimes. When I talked with him, I learned that he could not get to school on time because he had to take care of his family. His mother was a drug user and did nothing to help her children. I began to see how important it is to work on prevention; to support emotional needs to protect these young people.”


A celebration of music and culture in the classroom.

A celebration of music and culture in the classroom.

Established 166 years ago, Chicago Child Care Society (CCCS) is the oldest continually operating child welfare agency in Illinois. Located in Hyde Park with a new center in Englewood, its earliest incarnation was as an orphanage for the children of those who perished in a cholera epidemic.

As a child, Peggy Carr remembered her mother, who headed the organization while it was still an orphanage, bringing home the residents who became some of Peggy’s playmates.

Munson commented recently:

“The saying ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child is definitely right, but what does it take to raise a village? We need to ensure that the programs are in place to have the right systems and policies. There is much work to be done.”

Munson feels that it is not enough to just be of the community—you must be in the community, building a strong voice and finding the answers to questions like “what could we ever do to be of help?”

“We are now going through strategic planning to ensure that our mission meets the ever-changing needs of vulnerable children and their families. We have a preschool center that serves as a creative and nurturing environment for children to gain knowledge and social skills, an Early Head Start program to help teen moms better care for themselves and their babies, and programs for parenting teens, including helping parents become college bound.”

To board member Nancy Snyder, Munson can raise that village.

“She is the right leader for CCCS given the tumultuous times facing our communities. She is incredibly knowledgeable about best practices for serving at-risk children and families and works with the talented staff to develop new programs. Her positive outlook is key to the compassion and respect she obviously has for our constituents, and, as a board member, I can say makes her a delight to work with.”


The children on Pink Ribbon Day.

The children on Pink Ribbon Day.

Munson is most pleased to share individual success stories, including Chastity’s:

“Chastity wasn’t all that much different than her peers in that she loved to dance and sing and laugh with her friends. Everything changed when she was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. Although overwhelmed with fear, she reached out to her family, but no one believed her story. This once happy girl was left feeling all alone and wondering if anyone really cared for her at all.

“As a result, she began to give up, dropping out of high school and stopped trusting anyone in her life. At the age of 23, she found herself as a single mom with no job, no home, and no future. She desperately wanted to give her child a better life.

“Then she met one of our Early Head Start Home Visitors. She began to receive weekly home visits and attend monthly socialization groups to enhance the development of her child and to learn about healthy family functioning and family planning. In addition, Chastity received housing referrals and financial assistance. It was during her weekly home visits that some concerns regarding her child’s development were noticed. Chicago Child Care Society referred her baby for early intervention services and provided weekly developmental therapy.

“Today, Chastity’s child is now two years old and is on track developmentally. She and her family are present for every home visit and attend every socialization activity. Chastity is feeling confident today, thriving and making plans for her future and for her child.”

Inspired by Dara Munson to find a new volunteer opportunity, I turned to one of Chicago’s most significant change agents and a Chicago Child Care board member, Wini Scott, who told me:

“In volunteering, it is important to find an organization whose present purpose, and vision of what it wants to become, speak to you. Then, find a place in the organization where your interests and experience add value. In this way, you feel volunteering is personally satisfying, enriches the fabric of society, and contributes meaningfully to the future.”

Could there be a better New Year’s Resolution?


If you are interested in volunteering for Chicago Child Care Society, there are a variety of opportunities to check out. Would you like to mentor a teenager as part of the Next Step Program, read to small children at one of the family centers, lead a drive, or donate school supplies, winter coats, or boots? CCCS is also looking for young professionals who would like to serve on the junior board.

Contact Erin Walton by email (ewalton@cccsociety.org) or phone (773-643-0452). To learn more, visit www.cccsociety.org.