DOWNTOWN — May the funds be with you.
Filmmaker George Lucas is giving $25 million to a Chicago after-school program.
The five-year gift, provided through the George Lucas Family Foundation, will enable the 20-year-old After School Matters program to return to paying stipends to teens taking part in the program.
Lucas, creator of the "Star Wars" films, was thanked for the gift at a news conference Wednesday at the Gallery 37 Center for the Arts downtown by Mellody Hobson, the program's board chairwoman. She is also Lucas' wife, as the two were married in June and celebrated at Hyde Park's Promontory Point.
"It's an amazing, amazing program," Lucas said. "To see what goes on here, you realize how important it is."
Lucas did not otherwise speak at the event, but issued a statement saying, "These funds provide the opportunity for underserved teens to participate in productive and creative after-school programs, while learning critical career and life skills within a safe environment. Our goal is to support and invest in Chicago's youth, creating opportunities for them to achieve their full potential and become the strong and innovative leaders of tomorrow."
"George and I are just really excited to make this gift," Hobson said. "We believe — you all know that I'm in the investment business — that investing in young people is the best investment of all. There is no better use of money."
Hobson is president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments. She added that the funding will restore school-year stipends after the program was only able to pay summer stipends the last couple of years, and that it would also go to challenge grants to create an endowment.
Hobson said the stipend is important not just on a practical basis, but to give the children a sense of self-worth, adding it "teaches them about work and the benefits of working and being paid for what you do."
"That value system will serve them the rest of their lives," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also thanked Lucas for the gift to his "adoptive home."
Citing his experience as a dancer, Emanuel said, "They have an ability to find out something about themselves that they can't find out any other way," adding, "They can discover something about themselves."
"Most of all, we hope they're learning college- and career-readiness skills," said Mary Ellen Caron, chief executive officer of After School Matters.
After School Matters was created in 1991 by Maggie Daley, wife of Mayor Richard M. Daley. It offers arts, communications, science, sports and technology programs intended to develop those talents in teens and enhance their education.
The gift will kick in next year. Budget cuts two years ago left the city investment at $7.8 million for about 7,800 kids. Next year's funding is now expected to be $12.2 million for 4,400 more participants.
The stipends, which are intended to pay for basic transportation and supplies, range from $275 to $425 during the school year to $336 to $761 over the summer.