Chicago Mourns the Loss of Vanessa Rich, Champion for Children

vanessa-rich Chicago Youth Centers joins the city of Chicago, the Department of Family and Support Services, and the Head Start community in mourning the loss of Vanessa Rich, Deputy Commissioner of Children Services. Vanessa died on December 27, 2015 at the age of 64.

Vanessa was a true champion for Head Start and an advocate for Chicago’s children. She once said, “In Head Start, we don’t just stand on the porch; we come all the way into the house.”  That was how she lived: all in. After serving Head Start as a teenage intern in the summer of 1965, Vanessa embarked on a 40-year career of advocacy, leadership, and service. During her 11-year tenure with Chicago, the city’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs earned national recognition. Additionally, access to quality early learning expanded so thousands of the city’s most vulnerable children would experience this transformative programming.

To our city, she was a true champion for children and a formidable defender of early childhood education. To those of us at Chicago Youth Centers (CYC), Vanessa was a loyal partner, leader, and friend. “CYC could not have asked for a more supportive and caring partner,” says Wanda Doucet, CYC Director of Early Childhood Education . “Any time we needed support, Vanessa was there with a smile. Her passion, commitment, and kindness will be deeply missed, and the impact she had on our children and in our communities is deeply felt.”

“Vanessa impressed me in so many ways—as a leader and a person,” says CYC CEO Barbara Mosacchio. “She literally embraced me as I stepped into a new role in a new city. Perhaps most impressive was her true respect, admiration, and understanding for the agencies on the ground running the program. In one of our first meetings she said ‘you [CYC] are the real hero in this story.’  I will never forget those words, nor will I ever forget this larger-than-life woman with the most beautiful singular focus: Chicago’s children.”

It was Vanessa’s ability to welcome, encourage, and embrace that made her stand out as a leader. “I will always remember Vanessa’s warm smile and the joy she brought into every room she entered,” says Talina Carter-Bowie, Early Childhood Director of Programs & Operations at CYC.  “She truly believed in each individual and helped my team and I believe that we could truly make a difference.  Now when we go to work each day, we hope to honor Vanessa and keep fighting for early access to education and our children’s futures. We need to make sure we carry that torch.”

Indeed, Vanessa’s legacy will live on through the lives of thousands of children who experience Head Start, thanks to her tireless conviction. We know Vanessa’s life will be an inspiration to us as we work to serve our children, communities, and city.