CIW Stories: Laura Milani on How CIW Made for Some Magical Experiences

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How does CIW Member Laura Milani approach Chicago Ideas Week each year? With the idea that “if something connects with you when you’re experiencing it, act on it because it could produce beautiful things.”

And act on it, Milani does. A former entrepreneur, Milani attended CIW 2014 with the hope of finding individuals who, like her, were interested in pursuing projects with a direct impact on her community. There, she met Sonya Jackson, the former managing director of corporate and community affairs at United Airlines and a Chicago Ideas Week board member.

Together, the two decided on a plan to take 10 Chicago high school students on a trip to New York City. “There’s things that you experience that you can’t get in any other format that I’ve ever encountered,” Milani explained. “I could have some over to my house 10 different times for dinner, but if I go on a trip with them, my relationship will be bonded in a much deeper, more meaningful way.”

The pair teamed with Embarc Co-Founder and Executive Director Imran Khan, who wove the trip into his organization’s experience-based learning program, which takes students to business and organizations across the city. The trip marked the first time Embarc students traveled outside of Chicago—and Milani says it’s just the start of an annual program that will stress travel preparation and skills as much as vacation. Prior to the New York City trip, Milani and Jackson met with students to review their travel plans, from the flight to the hotel to the trip’s full itinerary.

“[The trip] was just filled with so many magical moments,” Milani concluded of the trip. Going to Times Square, the U.N., Broadway and more, Milani said, gave students and understanding that “the world is so much bigger than their neighborhoods and even Chicago…. It was just a really incredible, magical experience for all of us.”

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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