Our History



Program Recruitment

Board of Directors



Parent Leaders

W2C News

What We Do

We believe that all students who have big dreams for their future and are willing to work hard should have a shot at college. We help families who are committed to creating brighter futures for their children by providing them with a unique variety of resources to help their children get on and stay on the path to college. Since our founding in 2009, we have grown by 356% and now have a waiting list!

Our History

Nearly seven years ago, Lake County United (LCU) held a series of listening sessions in the Waukegan community churches and other institutions to identify key concerns.  Education came up as the number one concern – parents were worried that their children would not go to college and would not get well-paying jobs.
During a 9-month study, LCU conducted in-depth research on existing college-readiness programs in Waukegan and other leading programs, such as the Urban Education Institute and College Bound Opportunities. This research found that, although a number of solid programs are available in Waukegan, none included parents in their programming. As the outline of the new program evolved, LCU decided to make parental involvement a central, unique element of the program. Through relationships at the 10 LCU member institutions in Waukegan, LCU and the new Waukegan to College program were uniquely positioned to engage with parents and their children. The program began with one-on-one counseling and workshops for families. Tutoring and mentoring were added later in the first year of the program. Programming again expanded with the addition of Read to Achieve and summer enrichment programs in math and English. In 2013, W2C added Expanding Horizons – a cultural and workplace experiential program designed to expose students to cultural happenings such as theatre, music and art, and workplace trips to enlighten students about career choices and what real work environments are like.

On November 1, 2014, W2C joined forces with Envision Scholars. The specific goal of the integration was to intensify and further expand the newly-united group’s efforts to send more Waukegan students to college and support them through graduation. The integrated 501(c)(3) organization retains the name “Waukegan to College”, with the pivotal “Envision Corp” programming added for high school juniors and seniors. W2C continues to be led by Executive Director Danckers with a newly-expanded Board of Directors with members of the Envision Scholars leadership team. Chuck Gutman, founder of Envision Scholars, is an active program advisor to W2C.
The program began in September 2009 with 25 students and their families and has grown to 130 students and their families in 2015-16.


Waukegan to College believes there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of Waukegan students not reaching their full potential. For students and families who do not consider college to be an option, Waukegan to College seeks to inform families about the rules of the “college game” through workshops and one-on-one counseling. In addition, support programs like weekly tutoring and coaching, help ensure that students get on and stay on a path to college.
Students in Waukegan to College range from 5th grade to college. By starting the program with students just before they enter middle school, W2C establishes high academic expectations and a concrete sense that college, with hard work, is attainable.
Waukegan to College more than doubled from 25 students in its first year to 130 in the 2015-2016 school year — this number now includes 50 students in college who would likely not be there without Waukegan To College. Often, W2C works with the oldest child in the family and the younger siblings benefit from the understanding of the college process that parents gain. As the current 1st grader in the family grows up, his parents will be well-attuned to the importance of getting good grades, taking challenging courses, beginning to save for college at an early grade, and the many other critical aspects of pursuing higher education.
A fundamental tenet of W2C is its focus on families. Workshops delivering key information for pursuing college admission are given for students and parents and are presented in English and Spanish.
W2C fosters an environment where families are expected to give back to the program by helping families new to W2C become oriented to our program and by being W2C ambassadors in their community organizations. We believe that ultimately this family outreach will be instrumental in creating the college-going culture of the long-term vision.



Counseling and Advocacy
The activities of a W2C counselor include meeting monthly with each family, discussing goals and progress towards these goals, advocating for the student in the school for changes such as taking more challenging courses, getting additional help in courses where the student may be struggling, or ensuring that Individual Education Plan (IEP) accommodations are being made. W2C counselors are in close contact with teachers and administrators in the Waukegan Public Schools. In addition, we work with families to get students enrolled in summer programs on college campuses.
Volunteer college counselors work with high school juniors and seniors individually and in small groups to help them understand the college application process and develop a list of colleges that may be of interest. These meetings typically include the student’s coach and the coach then works with the student on exploring these college options.

Each month, we present a workshop to the families. In the 2013-2014 school year, eight workshops were presented: 1) Parent/Student Communication; 2) Short- and Long-Term Goal Setting; 3) college visits to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and Lakeland College; 4) pizza party with college students about college life; 5) College 101 and College Planning 6) Funding College and Resume Writing; 7) Student Success Strategies and Life Skills; and 8) Career Day. Workshops are held on Saturdays and generally run for two hours. A simultaneous translator delivers the presentation in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking parents.
Some age-specific workshops are offered for high school juniors and seniors. For example, in the fall, a workshop for seniors gives an orientation to financial aid and in the early second semester the college application timeline is reviewed with high school juniors. Each summer, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Waukegan hosts a “going to college” shower for W2C graduates, giving gifts generously donated by the congregation and W2C providing speakers offering tips on transitioning from high school to college.

College Persistence

The coaching aspect of W2C pairs an adult volunteer with a student. The goal is to form a relationship in which the coach can help the student set and realize goals. The pairs work on goal-setting, and academic skills such as time management and career investigation. As the student moves into upper high school, college research and applications become the focus. Importantly, coaches maintain contact with their student after the student goes to college. This relationship is an extra safety net to keep the student in college once they get there. All volunteers must interview with our Program Coordinator and complete a background check and a child protection workshop before being matched with a student.

Academic Improvement
W2C will seek to improve the academic performance of our students so that they are prepared for college and are attractive candidates for colleges (more choices, more scholarships). In addition to the ongoing one-on-one counseling in which W2C encourages academic progress and advocates in the schools for the most challenging coursework possible for each student, a variety of academic supports are available:

    • Weekly Tutoring: W2C offers weekly tutoring in many subjects, focusing on homework help. This effort is very important in helping our students improve grades and gain confidence in core academic areas. Each week a student works one-on-one with a tutor in a specific subject (many students work with several tutors, each in a different subject area). Tutors come from all over Lake County and vary in their expertise. For example, a scientist may be adept at helping a student in physics and a retired English teacher may help a student with writing. In general, we seek to pair the same student with the same tutor each week so that a relationship can be built. This approach of assigning tutors takes staff time to schedule as compared to a “drop in” approach, but yields better results for students and volunteers. Each week there are approximately 55 volunteer hours of tutoring.
    • Read to Achieve: In January, 2011 W2C kicked-off a read-aloud program, Read to Achieve, that helps improve the students’ abilities in reading, vocabulary, and comprehension. Students read aloud to a tutor once a week for 45 minutes at the Waukegan Public Library. We will continue to build this program to 20+ hours of reading per week. In January, 2011 W2C kicked-off a read-aloud program, Read to Achieve, that helps improve the students’ abilities in reading, vocabulary, and comprehension. Students read aloud to a tutor once a week for 45 minutes at the Waukegan Public Library. We will continue to build this program to 20+ hours of reading per week.
    • ACT prep: Volunteers with experience in ACT preparation work with W2C juniors and seniors. On average we are seeing student’s scores improve by 1 point.
    • W2C Summer Enrichment Program: Despite the hard work of our students and tutors, we continue to have concerns about the overall preparedness of our students. Lagging ACT scores and the low placement of our students in College of Lake County classes indicate that there is much work on academics to be done. Toward that end, we developed summer sessions in math, reading and writing at both the middle school and high school levels. In 2014, we provided similar middle school math and English support during spring break. While summer school programs exist to retake a specific subject (e.g., geometry), there are no options for students to “go back to basics” and master key skills like fractions and decimals.
    • Kahn Academy – Math Enrichment Program. Each week, 14 W2C middle school students spend 60 minutes or more working on their own, and 90 minutes working as a group with two W2C volunteers. The course outline includes: multiplication and division, factors and multiples, negative numbers and absolute values, decimals, fractions, and ratios, proportions, units and rates. We are seeing growth in basic skill level of these students and our goal is to offer it to all students.
    • Summer academic camps on college campuses: Part of W2C’s strategy to keep students on a path to college is to help them envision themselves there. Summer camps on campuses are an excellent way for students to experience college life and at the same time gain academic skills. (This also helps parents get more accustomed to the idea of their children being away at school.) W2C staff puts together a list of more than 30 options for students in a wide range of topics for relatively low cost ($300-400) and/or with scholarship options and then works with students and their families to choose and apply to camps. 98% of W2C students attended a summer camp in 2014 and all received full or partial scholarships.

Cultural and Workplace Exposure
Studies show that exposures to arts and culture, workplaces/businesses, and other areas such as government spark critical thinking, which is connected to increased academic achievement and future success. That’s why this year, W2C launched its Expanding Horizons program. So far students have been exposed to:

    • 3 performances – Shakespeare’s Othello, Too Hot to Handle, a jazz Messiah performance, and the MLK Project – a one-woman re-enactment of the civil rights movement in Chicago in the 1960s.
    • Dinosaur and Natural History Museums in Kenosha, WI (middle school students)
    • Metraflex in Chicago (high school students) – learn how a company runs – from the person on the factory floor to the corporate offices.

Program Recruitment

Families are brought into the program through an annual in-take process:

  • Students entering 5th thru 10th grade
  • Attend a school in Waukegan. It can be public or private
  • Be a first generation student
  • Low income as defined by HUD guidelines
  • Undocumented students welcome to apply
  • Families complete an application and must have the person recommending them to the program sign it, along with letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, or principals. W2C staff and Parent Leaders interviews families who have submitted an application and determines whether the student shows commitment to school and willingness to work with W2C resources to improve, and whether the parents are committed to participating in W2C programming and supporting their child
  • W2C staff interviews families who have submitted an application and determines whether the student shows commitment to school and willingness to work with W2C resources to improve, and whether the parents are committed to participating in W2C programming and supporting their child

Note: To enter the program, high school students must be entering sophomore year or below, sophomores must have at least a 3.0 GPA, have taken or planning on taking an honors or AP course by 11th grade at the latest, commitment to four years of college-prep courses, planning to enter a Bachelor’s Degree program. On rare occasions, W2C will accept a rising junior.

Current 10th grade students must reapply to W2C as an Envision Corps student and meet the guidelines outlined above.

Recruitment is district-wide.

Board of Directors

Mark Bertolozzi

Guadalupe Bueno
Guadalupe Bueno is a member of the W2C Parent Leader Team. She has two daughters in W2C, Vanessa, a college junior, and Guadalupe, a high school sophomore. Guadalupe runs an in-home day care business and advises her clients on getting their children on a path to college. Guadalupe is an enthusiastic spokesperson for W2C and has spoken at several meetings with funders. She has been a resident of Waukegan for 2 years.

Liam Connell
Liam Connell is a member of Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest, a member of Lake Forest College Board of Trustees, and was a member of the W2C Strategic Planning Team.

Elaine Eisen
Elaine Eisen brings her background in brand strategy and marketing communications to the W2C Board. She has over three decades of experience in building and launching pharmaceutical brands, encompassing brand leadership from the perspectives of the manufacturers, as well as those of the advertising agencies supporting the products. Elaine’s responsibility and passion to recruit, coach, and mentor the young talent in her employ led her to W2C, based on her desire to apply those same skills to the growth of the students of Waukegan. She is a resident of Evanston, Illinois and a member of Congregation Solel in Highland Park. Elaine attributes her fanatic support of the Northwestern Wildcats to her education at that institution.

Maria Gonzalez
Maria Gonzalez has been with W2C for three years, and is on the Community Organizing Core Team. Her daughter, Marlenny will be in 9th grade next year. Mrs. Gonzalez has taken a strong leadership role around school safety, and most recently was a leader conducting listening sessions with 300 Waukegan parents. She takes English classes in the evenings in the school district, and advocated for advanced level English classes to be offered to parents. Mrs. Gonzalez is treasurer and on the board’s Resource Development Committee.

Lauren Jiles-Johnson
Lauren Jiles-Johnson has more than 20 years of experience in corporate communications, currently working for a long-term care insurance brokerage in Lake Forest. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and a resident of Hawthorn Woods. Her intention is to draw upon experiences of supporting her own college age children, in mentoring a W2C high school student and serving as a reading tutor for a middle school student. Lauren is also a member of the President’s Council of Childserv.

Oscar Martinez
Oscar Martinez is a third year college student, and has been in W2C for 6 years now. Mr. Martinez has shown incredible grit and determination and is our first college student to be a member of the board. He brings a unique experience and talent to the table, paving the way for future alumni to join the W2C Board of Directors. Mr. Martinez is studying marketing at DePaul University.

Reyna Montes de Oca
Reyna Montes de Oca is a parent with W2C for the past four years. Her son will be a freshman at Waukegan High School. She believes that education is the first priority for her children and is necessary to be successful in life. She dreams that her children will graduate from college and pursue a professional career. In 2015, Reyna ran for the District 60 School Board to help Waukegan youth realize their potential. She was a teacher in Mexico and now works as a Certified Nurses Assistant at Lake Forest Place.

Martha Padilla
This is Martha Padilla’s second year with W2C. Mrs. Padilla has a daughter in middle school, and is employed by the school district as a Special Needs Aide. Mrs. Padilla is an active member of the W2C Community Organizing Core Team, and most recently has spoken at public events to encourage and motivate Latino families to take an active part in the upcoming school board elections. She will serve on the Resource Development Committee and is excited to be a member of the W2C Board of Directors.

Karen Papp, Secretary
Karen Papp is a resident of Waukegan and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Waukegan. Karen is retired after working in the Pharmaceutical industry for 32 years where she worked in the laboratory as a chemist and managed operational groups in pharmaceutical development. She currently is the director for KIDS HOPE USA mentoring program at St. Paul’s, one of the team leaders for an annual Panama Medical mission trip, and team lead for the annual W2C Oktoberfest event. Karen earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from Northeastern Illinois University.

Sonia Sanchez
Sonia Sanchez is from Mexico and has two daughters in the W2C program, Tamara, a 11th grader, and Gabriela, an 9th grader. The family has been in the program for two years and Sonia is a W2C Parent Leader. She’s lived in Waukegan for 21 years and has always loved to help her community. She works part time at the Roberti Community House and volunteers at House of Peace shelter and with Elder Care. She’s interested in education and believes education is the best thing we can bestow upon our children.

Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts
Rev. Eileen Shanley-Roberts is the Rector at Christ Church (Episcopal), Waukegan. Rev. Eileen has been with W2C since its early planning and research stages. She was also a member of the Strategic Planning Team. Rev. Eileen is a resident of Waukegan and a member of Lake County United’s Steering Team.

Dr. James Summers
Jim Summers is Vice President, Neuroscience Research at AbbVie. In this capacity, he leads a research organization of approximately 200 scientists located in Lake County, Illinois, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Ludwigshafen Germany that is focused on the discovery of new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Jim earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Denison University and a doctorate in organic chemistry from Harvard University. Jim was a member of the W2C Strategic Planning Team. He is a Libertyville resident and a member of Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

Marc Jones
Marc is a Waukegan native. He helps serve the community through his affiliation with the Waukegan Park District. He is community oriented and displays a sincere passion for helping his people.

Mary Sue Welch, Chairman
Mary Sue Welch is a Partner and actuary at Aon Hewitt, a global human resources consulting firm. She consults on all aspects of retirement plans in both the pension and retiree health care areas. Mary Sue is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries and an Enrolled Actuary. Mary Sue graduated from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York with a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics. She is a Libertyville resident and attends Christ Church in Lake Forest. Mary Sue is also a member of the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way of Lake County, IL

Joan Boughton
Joan Boughton is a Partner and actuary at Aon Hewitt with almost 30 years of experience. She specializes in consulting to large complex global organizations on total rewards programs, with deep expertise in retirement. Joan graduated with a B. A. from Wesleyan University in Connecticut with Honors in Mathematics. She also is a board member of the Conference of Consulting Actuaries. Joan is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries, an Enrolled Actuary, a Fellow of the Conference of Consulting Actuaries, and a Member of the American Academy of Actuaries.

Louise Bryant Hayes
Louise Bryant Hayes is an assistant state’s attorney at the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office in Waukegan. She has a J.D. from The John Marshall Law School and a B.A. from Purdue University. She is a member of the Lake County Bar Association. Louise is a member of St. Mary’s parish in Lake Forest and active in the women’s guild. She is a board member of Arden Shore. Louise is chair of the Board Development Committee and has volunteered as a W2C coach for a student at Waukegan High School. Louise and her family reside in Lake Bluff.

Iain Lopata

Iain Lopata is former Chief Technical Architect at Accenture. Iain has been involved with W2C for two years. He enjoys mentoring students and plays a role in developing the organization’s strategy and advising on the use of information technology. Iain is a Deerfield resident and a member of Temple Beth-El in Northbrook.


Carolyn Geldermann
Carolyn Geldermann is a volunteer college advising counselor with W2C. She is a proud member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), Illinois Association for College Admissions Counseling (IACAC), and an associate member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (ICEA). She advises juniors and seniors one on one and will work with staff to develop workshops.

Jeanie Sullivan
Jeanie Sullivan is a volunteer college advising counselor with W2C. She received a certificate in College Counseling from UCLA in 2015. Jeanie enjoys volunteering with first generation students and helping them make their college dreams a reality. She is a member of Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC).
She graduated with a BA from Fairfield University and worked for 10+ years in the marketing research/consulting industry.


Elyse Danckers, Executive Director
Elyse Danckers, has been involved with W2C since planning began in 2008. She works to develop workshop content and presenters, oversees the tutoring program and works with community organizations to develop volunteers, advisors and funders. Prior to joining W2C she was in management consulting and has extensive experience in developing and implementing strategic plans.


      • 4 years as an independent consultant for large international and small business clients
      • 10 years with an international legal publisher as Director of Business Development and Acquisitions (6 years) and Manager Strategic Planning (4 years)
      • 4 years in management consulting specializing in market strategy and productivity improvement
      • 6 years in sales and consulting in the banking industry
      • 2 years as an instructor in a business college (Wiesbaden, Germany)
      • MBA, University of Chicago, BA Mathematics, Northwestern University

Laura Rios, Program Manager
Laura Rios, has worked with Waukegan to College for six years. She has seven years of community organizing experience and is fluent in Spanish. Her background in professional & case management equips her to manage the organization, supervise, coach and train staff, develop strategic plans, which includes continuous improvement strategies, and meet with families each month to build relationships and ensure academic goals are being met. She has trained over 400 community leaders to engage local citizenry in neighborhood improvement strategies, and developed a Waukegan to College Parent Leader’S Team.  She holds a BA in Business Administration from Baldwin Wallace University.


      • Twenty years’ experience coaching and directing professional staff, developing production schedules, assessing staffing requirements, and managing operational budgets.
      • Achieve target goals through motivation, leadership, cohesive team building, effective decision making, and creative problem solving.
      • Experienced in a wide range of activities; marketing strategy execution, research, grant writing, speech writing, and fundraising events.

Gala Torres, Program Associate
Gala Torres is a 2013 Waukegan High School and W2C alum. She earned her Associates in Art degree from the College of Lake County (CLC), and is currently a Dental Hygiene Student at CLC. Gala has experience working with students during the college application process. She is also familiarized with working with Latino families as a Translator fluent in Spanish and English.


Parent Leaders

Parent Engagement and Leadership

Our Parent Leaders’ Team is very active and engaged in the success of Waukegan to College, its students, and around education improvement strategies. The 13-member Parent Leaders’ Team is a formalized structure within W2C with officers and committees focused around key areas: community service, fundraising, community organizing, and parent outreach. They have a strong presence at each school board meeting and the team meets at least monthly for committee work.

Their successes include:

        • Our Parent Leaders’ Team is very active and engaged in the success of Waukegan to College, its students, and around education improvement strategies. The 13-member Parent Leader’s Team is a formalized structure within W2C with officers and committees focused around key areas: community service, fundraising, community organizing, and parent outreach. They have a strong presence at each school board meeting and the team meets monthly for committee work.Their successes include:
          • Working with the district to:
            • get a qualified Spanish teacher hired
            • construct a turnaround lane at Thomas Jefferson Middle School so that students could safely get to school
            • organize the largest school board candidates forum in the district
          • Working with W2C parents to plan and execute successful fundraising events
          • Identifying meaningful community service projects for our students
          • Connecting with other W2C parents monthly
          • Engaging with the surrounding community members to find out what’s important to them
          • One W2C Parent Leader running for school board, losing by a very small margin
          • Four parent leaders are serving on the W2C Executive Board
          • Organized a press conference and got the media to put public pressure on the school district for not having full-time college and career counselors

          Their current issue work includes:

          • Hiring 2 full-time college and career counselors at the high school
          • Bringing a STEM Career Pathways program to the high school (Health Sciences)
          • Improving student safety

W2C News

Waukegan students honored by United States Congress
W2C joins forces with Envision Scholars
W2C fall fundraiser
Thank you Oktoberfest Sponsors
Stating off the school year with a bang!
Waukegan students, parents, push for extra college counseling
Aseguran es grave falta de consejeros en D60