Mama wasn’t lying when she used to say, “Laughter is the best medicine.” And for Chicago ailing schools, laughter might be one of the things that helps keep after-school programs.
Chicago parents, in conjunction with two schools and non-profits will be utilizing “Stand Up for Schools,” a year-long fundraising effort produced by The Mikey O Comedy Show “Comedians for Communities” initiative in order to raise funds to help more than 14,000 elementary students in the area. The first of four stand-up shows will take place on February 28 and hopes to raise up to $10,000.
Mike Oquendo, the founder of The Mikey O Comedy Show, says he produces approximately 100 comedy shows per year, mostly for charitable causes, in Chicago — a city in which 87 percent of students come from low-income families, according to Chicago Public Schools.
“I started ‘Stand Up for Schools’ as a way to empower local schools to raise money for immediate dollar needs,” says the man who loves using comedy to heal economic woes. “At the end of all our shows, we say we need to support arts education…We have a huge deficit in funding for the arts and maybe this will help buy some trumpets, brushes or some scripts for acting.”
Joey Villagomez, one of the comedians who will be performing at the fundraiser this Thursday, agrees.
“I see a huge change,” says the Mexican-American comedian born and raised in Chicago. “It’s been about 10 years since I’ve been in school, and now there’s not a lot of extracurricular activities…Before there were sports and art…I’ve seen a huge difference.”
Today, he has a 14- and 10-year-old in the Chicago public school system so this cause is a priority for him.
“I saw first-hand last year how the schools didn’t have books,” says Villagomez, who has been doing comedy fundraisers with Oquendo for the past five years. “They have about five computers they have to share among students. I am a product of Chicago public schools, and I see how much money the government gives, and there’s so much gang violence. To keep kids in schools and keep the schools running is very important to me.”
A spokesperson from Chicago International Charter Schools – Bucktown, one of the schools participating in “Stand Up for Schools,” Kate Proto, says approximately 81 percent of the school’s 670 students are Latino, and this is the first event they are having like this.
“It’s exclusively for parents and community members,” says Proto adding that their school and Ruben Salazar Bilingual Center each got 100 tickets to sell, as well as the two non-profits, Youth Guidance and Chicago Voyagers. “It also gives the parents a chance to get together — a night away from the kids.”
Jorge De Leon from Chicago Voyagers, a non-profit which empowers at-risk youth through outdoor activities says “Stand Up for Schools” will will assist in lowering costs for more kids to be able to participate in trips and other educational activities.
“I’m a product of services that have benefited me and my family in the past so it’s kind of impossible for me to do 100 shows a year where I’m being paid, and [not give back],” says Oquendo. “I help because I was helped. My sister is handicapped, and we sought services that were really important to us. I thought this is what I could do.”