Self-starters who solved their own problems

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"It was a huge experience for them," said Khan. "They were asking me, 'What do I need to do? I want to go there.' For years I'd been fighting this battle in the classroom, but I realized this is a war that requires moving outside the classroom. If we are going to win, we have to show these kids what's available to them and get them connected to their community."

Khan decided to expand the field trips into a nonprofit program that provides cultural, artistic and culinary experiences for students. EMBARC Chicago (which stands for "Empowering Minds, Building Achievement and Reconnecting Communities") is approaching its one-year anniversary, and the cultural and educational exposure is building enthusiasm among the Harper students.

"We have more students getting scholarships to colleges this year than we did last year," said Khan, who is also EMBARC's executive director. "When I started doing the field trips, I had a tough time convincing even five students to come to the city. Now I have 120 applicants and counting. I just got six in today."

Khan said plans are in motion to have EMBARC programs available in four more Chicago public schools within the next five years.

"We've created a model that can expand easily to other schools," Khan said. "I'm getting approached by principals and administrators from Chicago Public Schools. We've partnered with businesses and restaurants and the Joffrey Ballet — all of those relationships are really culminating. We want people to say, 'We're excited to help. We want to work with kids.' "

To learn more about the programs or to get involved, visit http://www.embarcchicago.org.

Phyllis Parise has a new take on old soles

Phyllis Parise likes to help people. But helping people and talking about it are two very different things.

"Some people talk a good game but they don't do a thing," said Parise, founder of Jolly Old Soles, a charity that donates shoes to those in need. "I have always been involved in charities and thought I needed to do something more, so I figured, 'Everyone needs shoes. Why not donate shoes?' My basement is now a shoe palace."

Parise has collected nearly 1,200 pair of shoes and donated 900 since launching Jolly Old Soles in December 2010.

"I hear about a charity or a community that is falling on hard times, and I make a call, and ask when I can come and drop off some shoes," she said. "Right now, I have about 200 pair I'm going to give to an American Indian reservation in Manderson, S.D. If I can't get someone to donate the shipping, I'll just drive them there myself."

Parise, a single parent who teaches at Lewis University's college of business when she's not running Jolly Old Soles, said there's no excuse for not giving back.

"There's always someone who has it worse than you," she said. "Not that I don't have problems too—but I think people need to do more to help out. Everyone has a pair of shoes they'd don't use anymore in their closet. Why not give them to someone who will be happy to have them?"

Jolly Old Soles will be taking donations at their "Kick-Off" party on Nov. 19 in Naperville. For more information, visit http://www.jollyoldsoles.com.
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