Clara Barton Elementary School special education teacher Lizzy Carroll ‘17’s community outreach through her nonprofit, Lead With Love, is making a big impact in the Englewood and Auburn-Gresham communities in Chicago.
Over the past year, Lead With Love has held fundraisers, dance classes, support groups for parents, and a fall festival. All these initiatives started as ideas from Carroll’s students at Barton Elementary, who are rising leaders in the South Side of Chicago.
“The point behind letting the youth lead is that we want to teach them to be leaders in the community,” she said. “Eventually they are going to be the generation that are leading the way for the next.”
Carroll formed the nonprofit as a response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. When the pandemic forced students and teachers into a remote learning environment last spring, Carroll partnered with community members to ensure students had what they needed to succeed.
“We started going to the kid’s houses and deliver food baskets and used technology like iPads and laptops to get them connected,” she said. “We wanted to make sure they had what they needed to survive while also getting some academic content during that time.”
What started as Carroll and her fellow teachers working to serve their students blossomed into a larger organization as more people asked how they could get involved. Interest especially increased after the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
“We want to be leaders and we choose love,” she said. “We’re going to make sure everyone gets what they need to be successful and reach their full potential despite these injustices.”
Carroll’s efforts led to her being nominated for WGN’s Remarkable Woman Award this spring. She is proud that she was nominated for the award but stresses she is simply pursuing service opportunities that her students are most passionate about.
“Honestly, my students inspire me a lot,” she said. “They have the biggest heart and passion for helping people. They’re the advocates. I am just here assisting them with their ideas and making sure they have the resources they need to make a difference, make a change.”
Carroll’s commitment to service began at Illinois State University. Even though she initially wasn’t sure if college was for her after graduating high school, she flourished during her time on campus. She started working at schools in Chicago Public School (CPS) system by participating in National Center for Urban Education (NCUE) programs STEP-UP and INFUSE. These experiences prepared her to be an educator that strives to make a difference.
“I lived in one of ISU’s partner neighborhoods, Little Village, and taught summer school there,” she said. “It was really great because my first, real classroom teaching experience was also with that population in Little Village, so it was a smooth transition. It was a community-based program that I think honestly led to the work that I do now.”
“Lizzy Carroll exemplifies what the National Center for Urban Education strives to nurture in future educators: a community teacher,” Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline Director Jennifer O’Malley said. “She always centers her students in both her teaching at school and her community work with Lead with Love. Barton elementary and Chicago are lucky to have her in their corner and NCUE is proud to continue to support Lizzy’s passion for making a difference and lifting up the voices of students and families on the South Side.”
It was during this experience that Carroll noticed the disparities between the schools she attended and the ones in the South Side of Chicago. Lead With Love was founded in part to help bridge the achievement gap between schools like Barton Elementary and those in wealthier areas.
“My high school was Carl Sandburg in Orland Park. There were like 5,000 students in that school, very well-funded, every extracurricular you can imagine, bus services, all of that,” she said. “And coming to CPS, particularly in neighborhood schools on the south and west side, are very underfunded.”
Lead With Love also shows the positive happening in her community, often lost in the mainstream media coverage surrounding the south side of Chicago, Carroll said. “There are so many beautiful things happening here. We obviously don’t like some of the things that happen here, but instead of getting upset about it, we ask, ‘How can we make a change?’”
Carroll has some simple advice for Redbirds who are looking to make a difference.
“There are so many organizations that you can get involved in,” she said. “Any opportunity to find your passion, see what sparks your interest, and make connections with people is so important.”