Mandee Polonsky has taken it upon herself to make sure Chicago’s children have a better future. She works to improve the city’s education every day as the Director of Community Investment-Education at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.
When she realized there was a need to gather Chicago’s leaders to discuss the city’s education crisis back in 2013, Mandee coordinated the first ever citywide Education Summit, working closely with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and several corporate and philanthropic partners.
“Mandee is an incredible example of a strong Jewish woman,” said her coworker and nominator Karyn Ruhl. “She is innovative, inspiring and passionate.”
Before coming to United Way, Mandee taught elementary school for two years in the Bronx through Teach for America and received the organization’s Chicago Distinguished Alumni of the Year honor in 2009.
Within education, Mandee is passionate about debate. She co-founded the Chicago Urban Debate League, which serves 31 school sites and 450 students in the region, and is programming chair of the Chicago Debate Commission. She is also on the service committee at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School where her oldest son attends and is an active volunteer with JUF’s Young Women’s City Council.
Director, Community Investment - Education at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago
On the side:
Mom of three boys: Nathan (5), Emmett (2) and Isaac (3 weeks!) and therefore Chief Purchasing and Scheduling Officer at my house
Married to Jonathan Polonsky for 10 years in August
How do you give back?
Travel! Ideally our kids could come with us, but with three little ones we may need some extra help. We have been fortunate to travel through Europe, Israel, China, South Africa, and India but would love to explore South America, more of Asia and Australia.
Describe yourself in 10 words or less:
Education equality advocate and devoted mom, wife, friend and community member
Celebrity doppelganger/who would play you in a movie:
My grandmother loves to say I look like Diane Kruger...a loving compliment that I think applies here
How do you Jew in Chicago?
My oldest attends Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School and my middle son is at Gan Shalom at Temple Sholom, so they definitely keep us busy and up on our holidays. We were longtime members of Rodfei Zedek in Hyde Park where my husband became a bar mitzvah and his grandmother taught aerobics for seniors for years - so we were active there before moving up to the North side. We often do Shabbat dinner with our in-laws and love driving to three different Passover seders and Rosh Hashanah dinners in one night in the suburbs! I also helped a bit on the events committee for the Young Women's City Council for JUF this year.
Education equality for all children, my own children and their interests as they start to explore the world, exercising (in my limited free time!), and traveling whenever possible
Chicago's Jewish community in 10 years:
Based on my involvement with BZAEDS and the great community at Gan Shalom, I feel confident that the Chicago Jewish community is continuing to thrive as young families are staying in the city, choosing public and private schools, and enjoying all the city has to offer.
Me in 10 years:
My number one dream at the moment is to send all three boys to Camp Chi – so I'd love to take a nap in 10 years with no kids at my house! After that, I am hopeful to still be working in philanthropy and/or non-profit, giving back in the education and Jewish spheres, and continuing to grow as a professional. I am interested in exploring more in Corporate Social Responsibility as well, to enable companies to maximize their employees’ time and talent in whatever matters most to them and their mission.