High Jump Celebrates Young Leaders



High Jump soared at its recent Four Seasons Chicago gala, raising over $1 million, the highest amount in the organization’s storied history. Aptly named A Spring of Opportunity to emphasize its mission to provide students with academic opportunities, the benefit celebrated High Jump’s 30th anniversary and welcomed back graduates and volunteers who number among Chicago’s people worth watching.


Paddle raise.


Event Co-Chairs Carrie Weaver, Janet Rauschenberger, and Cynthia Heusing.

Cynthia Heusing, Janet Rauschenberger, and Carrie Weaver served as co-chairs, inviting to the stage three alumni speakers: emcee Elaine Rojas-Castillo, news anchor for WIFR-TV; Xiomara Contreras, marketing manager for Google; and keynote speaker Paul Trussell, managing director, Deutsche Bank. Ramon Villalpando, a partner at Jenner & Block, accepted the first High Jump Alumni Award.


Alumni Speakers Elaine Rojas-Castillo, Xiomara Contreras, Ramon Villalpando, and Paul Trussell.

High Jump was established in 1989 as a cooperative program at the Latin School of Chicago in collaboration with the Francis W. Parker School, with funding from the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation. The academic enrichment program was established to ensure that access to competitive secondary school was not determined by lack of information, limitations of home schools, and financial resources. The program began with a cohort of 16 students and one campus. Since then, High Jump has opened two additional campuses at the Francis W. Parker School in 2012 and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in 2014, and serves 360 middle-schoolers every year.

We asked Cynthia Heusing to tell us more about the program:

What’s the great part of being involved with High Jump? 

I’ve been a High Jump supporter for about seven years and a board member for two years. My favorite part is volunteering at program events because I really get to interact directly with the students. I help with interviewing 6th graders who apply to the program and conducting mock interviews with 8th graders to prepare them for the rigorous high school application process, and it’s amazing to see the transition between 6th to 8th grade as the students grow as learners and leaders while in High Jump. 

How do you think that the Gala emphasized this mission?

I was really proud of the benefit this year. I felt like it really highlighted the impact of the program, especially by featuring the three alumni speakers who shared their stories and how High Jump influenced their path. They’re just such impressive individuals who have worked so hard to get to where they are today, and I think the fact that they come back and continue to give back to the organization is so inspiring and just shows how High Jump has a life-long impact on students.


Alum Phil Nevels, Executive Director Nate Pietrini, Dana Pietrini, and alum Amina Nevels.


Charlie and Mary Gofen.

I hear many of your founding members such as Charlie Gofen and Vince Cozzi talking about High Jump’s amazing track record. Are many people involved for a long time?

Yes, it’s great to see so many High Jump supporters who have been involved for years stay engaged with the organization. I know Diana Aixala, Sally Carton, Paula Crown, Eleanor Nicholson, Priscilla Kersten and Todd Smith are still in touch with High Jump and attend events every year. But it’s also great to see how High Jump has expanded. The Latin and Parker communities were involved from the start, but now High Jump also partners with the University of Chicago Lab Schools, which is how I became involved, and that community has been extremely supportive as well.

How has High Jump impacted the larger community?

High Jump’s impact has reached so many people in Chicago. Last year’s group of students represented over 70 community areas in the city. High Jump doesn’t just teach these students to be good at school but how to advocate for themselves and how to be leaders. There are so many alumni I’ve met who are leaders and activists in their schools and communities. And High Jump has a generational impact as well: many are the first person in their family to attend and graduate from college, which is such a huge accomplishment.

Where should one look to get more information about High Jump?

High Jump has a lot of great content on their website, and they also have a blog with updates and highlights about the program. The High Jump social media feed is a great place for quick updates and often short videos from students and alumni. I love seeing a High Jump student pop up in my Instagram feed every couple of days. Look for them as well on Facebook and Twitter!


Thomas and Cheryl Rudbeck with Gerald Cooke.


Matt Means and Beth Kronfeld.


Pam and Michael Gordon.



Photo credit: Jasmin Shah