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Donors Make a Difference: Jon Will and the Betty Lou Smith Fund at The Chicago Community Trust

Jon Will and Mary Gugenheim

Betty Lou and James Victor Smith, both longtime residents of Chicago, understood and appreciated the importance of education. Now, Jon Will, the executor of Betty Lou Smith’s estate, honors her legacy by continuing her support for arts education. As an alumnus of the Hyde Park Academy High School, Jon is passionate about providing support for additional education programs in local public schools. “The arts are a huge part of education,” he says, “It is imperative that school children continue to be exposed to the arts through opportunities like these.” Court Theatre is grateful for the Betty Lou Smith Fund’s support of education and community engagement initiatives, which will help increase the impact and reach of the arts on the South Side of Chicago.

Court’s body of work extends far beyond the stage. For over a decade, Court’s Artists-in-the-Schools program has served a range of South Side public high schools, from Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park to Wendell Phillips Academy in Bronzeville. The program allows students, educators, and artists to explore fresh perspectives on classic theatre through artist residencies, student matinees, and performance workshops. With the support of patrons and donors like you, Court solidifies its commitment to bridging communities and fostering dialogues through compelling theatrical performances.

The Betty Lou Smith Fund is a major supporter of Court’s education programs. Most recently, it instituted a generous two-to-one matching program for all increased or new donations to Court’s education and community engagement programs. As part of a sustained effort, this generosity will continue for four years, enabling Court to reach even more students and community members. Court’s donor base has risen to the occasion, with an unprecedented number of increased or new gifts made this season to meet the challenge. Your generosity has made the difference! Thank you for your support of these meaningful programs.

Thanks to the support of the Betty Lou Smith Fund and donors like you, Court’s Artists-in-the-Schools program is able to implement and enhance drama programs by bringing professional artists into local schools for mentorship and development. Court’s student matinee series enables students from partner schools to gain a deeper appreciation for classic theater, offering pre- and post-performance discussions in addition to providing supplemental educational materials for teachers. Since inception, these programs have grown substantially. Currently, Court serves more than 4,000 students each year. The Betty Lou Smith Fund has played an important role in ensuring that these educational programs will continue to develop and flourish.


Just as Betty Lou Smith’s gift has made an impact, your gift to Court supports artists onstage and behind the scenes, as well as students and teachers in our classrooms, and partners in the community. Donations from you and other theatre supporters compromise 45% of gifts to Court every year, and are critical to Court’s sustained success. Click here to give today! Or, contact Lauren Sheely, Development Assistant, at (773) 834-3563 or via email.

Photo: Jon Will and Mary Gugenheim at the opening night celebration of Court Theatre’s Electra.

Posted on May 31, 2017 in Donor Stories, Support

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