Building on Her Father’s Legacy – Sarah Lorenzi’s Story

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Sarah Lorenzi with her father and founder of CAAEL, John Martin

From the time she was born, the Chicago Area Alternative Education League (better known as CAAEL) has been a part of Sarah Lorenzi’s life. Her father, John Martin, started CAAEL over 30 years ago, providing students (age 7-21) in Chicagoland’s alternative education schools an opportunity to participate in athletics where the biggest trophy is awarded to the team that displays the best sportsmanship, not whoever has more points on the scoreboard at the end of a contest.

One of CAAEL’s biggest events is its annual basketball tournament. Lorenzi recalls fond memories from her childhood, running around the gym while donning a CAAEL t-shirt. Little did she know that she was a part of something that positively impacts thousands of lives every year, and she would one day become responsible for continuing the legacy her father built. This is the story of Forest Park native Sarah Lorenzi.

Around Oak Park:
How did you first become involved with CAAEL? And why did you decide to do it?

Sarah Lorenzi:
I’ve been involved my entire life. My Dad started CAAEL in 1976, so my sister, my Mom, and I have been around ever since I can remember. It’s a family affair and it’s something my Dad put his heart and soul into. I am extremely passionate about it.

AOP:
What did you do before CAAEL?

Sarah:
I taught third grade at Longfellow Elementary for 13 years. Every year I would think to myself, “This is the year I might need to walk away,” with the intention of helping my Dad as he nears retirement. I decided last year that I would take a leave. Now I am full-time with CAAEL, and officially took over as Chairman of the Board.

Teammates coming together during a CAAEL basketball game
Teammates come together during a CAAEL basketball game

AOP:
What is the overall mission of CAAEL?

Sarah:
To offer academic and athletic programs to students in Chicagoland’s alternative education schools. We provide almost every sport you can imagine and it’s an opportunity for these kids to get involved in programs that don’t exist within the schools themselves. Therefore, we form partnerships with the schools and host events every Wednesday and Friday during the academic year. Students look forward to participating in CAAEL events, but are only allowed to do so following good behavior, academics, and attendance. The schools and teachers love us because CAAEL incentivizes students to focus on their schoolwork.

AOP:
What are some obstacles you face that deters you from accomplishing CAAEL’s goals?

Sarah:
With 36 years of experience, we have a proven track record. However, our obstacle is that we want to grow, and in order to do that we need money to fund these programs and add schools. I don’t want to sound cliché because money is an issue for every nonprofit, not just ours. And there is a silver lining in that we are finally being recognized which is the first step towards growth. This past year we have been featured on the front cover of the Chicago Tribune, numerous segments on Comcast SportsNet, and WGN, for instance.

AOP:
What took so long for CAAEL to finally gain recognition?

Sarah:
People never knew about us because my Dad never really had the time to market CAAEL. He was so busy building the foundation and ensuring that kids had programs to participate in. But we are entering a new era for CAAEL. People are starting to pick up on what we’re doing because they want to understand and be a part of something positive.

AOP:
How does CAAEL impact the communities of Oak Park, River Forest & Forest Park?

Sarah:
CAAEL directly impacts Oak Park, River Forest & Forest Park because many students who live in these towns are in one of our CAAEL schools.  Kids from the three suburbs get sent to a number of alternative schools in the area, as well as one of our own schools, Camelot Oak Park, which is right in the neighborhood. In fact, the alternative program at OPRF was one of the original four CAAEL schools back in 1976. Also, the fact that CAAEL has been run out of Forest Park since the beginning is pretty neat, and we have lots of community support as well when it comes to events like our annual Band-a-Thon fundraiser.

CAAEL '15 Bandathon Flyer

AOP:
What is the Band-a-Thon fundraiser?

Sarah:
It’s a live music festival we do every year to help raise money for CAAEL. 2015 will be our 13th annual and we’re hosting it President’s Day weekend. Tickets are $35 at the door or you can get one for $30 by purchasing in advance. With the ticket, you get access to unlimited beer, wine, appetizers, door prizes, a raffle, and 8 or 9 live music acts. Kids are of course welcome to come, but it is mainly an event for adults. It will take place on Sunday, Feb. 15, from 4-7 p.m. at Healy’s in Forest Park.

AOP:
What is the greatest thing you’ve ever accomplished with CAAEL?

Sarah:
I am most proud of getting to see these kids highlighted for something optimistic. I have seen parents cry with pride when their sons and daughters get featured in a newspaper for a CAAEL event. It’s so wonderful for me to see these kids shown in a positive light, and it is a result of the good choices they made.

AOP:
How can people get involved if they are interested in the mission of CAAEL?

Sarah:
There’s always the option of volunteering at an event or coming to one of our fundraisers. I usually encourage people to attend our annual state basketball tournament, which is our largest event, and the same one I would run around at as a kid. People don’t even have to volunteer there, but it’s a great opportunity to see what we are all about. This year it will take place March 28-29 at The Academy at Forest View located in Arlington Heights. I know people will be surprised to see what these kids are capable of. Lastly, I encourage anyone to visit CAAEL.org for more information on our events, fundraisers, and anything else they might like to know.

A coach talks to his team during a CAAEL basketball game
A coach talks to his team during a CAAEL basketball game

 

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