More than 1,000 undergraduate students will hit the dance floor March 8 to 10 when Northwestern University Dance Marathon, one of the largest student-run philanthropies in the country, raises funds for 2019 nonprofit beneficiaries Communities In Schools of Chicago and the Evanston Community Foundation.

The 30-hour test of endurance is the culminating event in a yearlong effort to support Chicago area high school students by empowering them to graduate high school and achieve in life beyond the classroom.

Since last fall, students have been fundraising for the beneficiaries, through online outreach, social media “asks” and small and large scale fundraising events — including an alumni gala, several food delivery service fundraisers, restaurant profit shares, an a cappella music festival and an Olympics mini-game and sports competition — to meet NUDM’s $1 million-dollar fundraising goal.

In addition, students have spent their weekends “canning” in local neighborhoods — spreading the mission of the beneficiaries and asking for on-the-fly donations from passerby’s. Students have also engaged with CIS of Chicago through a group mentorship program and several themed educational events on Northwestern’s campus.

NUDM selected CIS of Chicago as its primary beneficiary last spring. The non-profit organization addresses systemic and institutional issues that perpetuate the drop-out crisis, implementing support programs and providing resources that fall within four core areas: college and career readiness, the arts, health and wellness and behavioral and mental health. 

“The Northwestern community’s response to NUDM this year has been in large part a function of our amazing beneficiary, Communities In Schools of Chicago,” said Justin Savin, an NUDM 2019 executive co-chair. “Every year the Northwestern community gets excited about our rotating primary beneficiary; what connected us to CIS are values that align directly with Northwestern students: education and opportunity.”

Through its work with CIS of Chicago, NUDM hopes to impact CPS students by expanding the nonprofit’s presence in the Chicagoland area — reaching more schools and more students. CIS places highly trained staff inside Chicago Public Schools to support students in three ways: individually with case management and one-on-one sessions, through small group support and with school-wide programs. The organization currently partners with 147 schools and this year alone has provided services to more than 70,000 CPS students.

“When I first arrived at my school, some students who were familiar with CIS showed me my room and told me that it was a place they went to ‘when they needed a place to go,’” said Beth Neiman, a student supports manager at Foreman High School. “In even the short time I’ve been at this school, I can see how very necessary these places are; a place to take a deep breath, a place to calm down, a place to talk through things, to find a listening and supportive professional who takes their needs seriously. In this space, we work together to problem solve, we re-center, we set goals, we look for solutions and ways to build up capacity, both on an individual and a larger-scale level.”

Ultimately, CIS of Chicago’s mission is to help close the opportunity gap in education by supporting school-age children to help them stay on track to graduation. CPS schools, which have a higher percentage of students of color, receive fewer state resources than predominantly white school districts in the rest of the state. These funding disparities mean that fewer CPS schools have libraries, playgrounds, counselors and arts programs. CIS of Chicago, along with its community partners, connect students to resources these underfunded schools are unable to provide.

“Communities In Schools of Chicago has really resonated with the Northwestern community because many students here were fortunate enough to have mentors during their high school years that helped them achieve and ultimately attend a school like Northwestern,” said CJ Patel, the other NUDM 2019 executive co-chair. “Too many CPS students view attending college or pursuing their dream job as an unattainable reality. This serves as a call to action to support CIS, since the individualized support they provide lets students realize that their path to graduation and life beyond is not limited by their circumstances, but defined by their own potential.”

NUDM 2019 begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 8, and concludes at 1 a.m. on Sunday, March 10. It will take place at Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, on the Northwestern’s Evanston campus. A live stream of the event can be viewed online at

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