After school group remembers former first lady

November 26, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The former first lady, who died Thursday after a lengthy battle with cancer, started After School Matters in 1991. The program offers activities through art, writing, sports, science and technology.

For 20 years, the program has helped young people find their inner voice

"She is the reason I am who I am today because I found people who help me and who support me," said After School Matters participant Dorian Rhea.

After School Matters instructor Tanji Harper said Mrs. Daley will be remembered through the students as they mature.

"She validated a lot of Chicago teens, and now they're growing up to be really good adults," Harper said. "And they're coming back, and they are going for their master's in college. They are starting dance companies."

Before After School Matters, 21-year-old Meghan Bestler never dreamed she'd be an opera singer. She just returned from Italy after a starring role in "Le Nozze De Di Figaro".

"I would be absolutely nowhere, to be honest," Bestler said. "I came in completely clueless. I'd probably be going into the wrong field, and I'd have no idea what to do professionally because I'm the only singer in my family."

And so it's perhaps fitting that Sunday's public wake will happen amidst the glass and marble brilliance of Preston Bradley Hall, a room at the Chicago Cultural Center where the performing arts are celebrated.

Across the street is Gallery 37, where the teens of After School Matters continue to live Mrs. Daley's dream.

"She took her time into creating something that teenagers can rely on and go to and stay out of trouble," said After School Matters participant Stefany Dominguez.

After School Matters instructor Pierre Lockett said he feels the loss of Mrs. Daley but also feels hope that she lives on through the many students of the program.

"I think the loss for me is going to be a great friend," Lockett said. "But beyond seeing the loss, I see a great inspiration that is going to be passed on through the legacy of all the work that she's done here."

Also Saturday, final preparations for Sunday's public wake were underway at the cultural center, where a steady stream of mourners signed condolence books.

"Lots of people have lots of thanks for her," said Virginia Brundage, who signed a condolence book. "She has done a lot for a lot of people."

Among those who came to sign a book was artist Joscelyn Cuyun, who was in After School Matters as a teen.

"I wrote in the book thank you for giving me the chance that nobody else could give me," Cuyun said. "And thank you for giving me the opportunity to live my passion."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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