O'Connor Family

Honoring the importance of education: Kathleen and Michael O'Connor's planned giving decision

By Amanda Norton

Education brought Kathleen and Michael O'Connor together in the 1980s; they met as undergraduates at Amherst College. They connected again a decade later at their tenth-year college reunion.

Their early life together took them on peacekeeping and education missions to Madagascar and Kosovo. After they returned to the US, Michael's work led them to the Chicago area, and they made a home for their family in Oak Park. As their children approached the transition to high school, they were delighted to find Lab. Soon after their son Thomas, '22, entered U-High, Michael began volunteering, first as a Parents Fund volunteer and later as a member of the Parent Development Committee.

Having spent much of their adult lives dedicated to education in a number of different local contexts and complex circumstances, the O'Connors strongly believe that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. For them, Lab is a place that nurtures learning and growth, a small village within the bigger UChicago community. At Lab, they have found for their three children—Thomas was joined last year by his siblings Clare and Daniel, both in the class of 2023—"a place where they can be themselves and be challenged to evolve by expanding their knowledge and emotional intelligence."

In 2018, Kathleen and Michael decided to demonstrate their support of Lab by making a bequest. Bequests—often made through a will or trust—allow donors to retain control over their assets during their lifetime while pledging future support to institutions that are important to them. Of their decision to include Lab in their estate plans, Michael notes, "The one thing we really wanted to do was to show appreciation to the villages that have helped us raise our children. Lab is one of three such villages that stand out in our minds as key to our children's development. We wanted to make sure that at the end of our days something was left to say thank you to the institution and the people who have been such a positive and integral part of our lives.

"Kathleen and I have both been in education for much of our adult lives, and we have toured hundreds if not thousands of schools," says Michael. "I believe that like Tolstoy's 'all happy families,' all good schools are alike, at least in one important regard. They all share the distinguishing characteristic of 'spirited inquiry.' For us, Lab has such a feel." Including Lab in

their estate planning offered Kathleen and Michael a way to make a meaningful, long-term commitment to a place to which they feel deeply connected and grateful.

These days, the O'Connors run FORA (Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America), a tutoring center in West Rogers Park that serves Rohingya children and women. With a staff of volunteer and professional tutors, the center offers students ages 5–18 support in reading and math, as well as English classes for adult refugees. The O'Connors are providing to new Americans some measure of what they value most about the education they have found for their own children at Lab.

A typical day finds Kathleen or Michael directing tutors and engaging children, and thinking about the development and broader well-being of all the families the organization serves. Thomas, Clare, and Daniel sometimes join their parents in working with the children as well. Throughout the O'Connors' bright storefront space, one can see caring adults and young people carrying out the kind of powerful work that also goes on at Lab every day: the work of instilling confidence in children while also motivating them to be hungry to learn more and continue to grow.

By making a bequest to Lab, Kathleen and Michael O'Connor have made a formal pledge to support Lab's powerful work, helping to ensure that Lab will continue to deliver on its educational mission to ignite and nurture an enduring spirit of scholarship, curiosity, creativity, and confidence, far into the future.

 
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