Significant events in COFI’s history:


COFI is founded with a Sponsoring Committee of 18 prominent and visionary leaders–including former community organizer Barack Obama! First parent training is held in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.


COFI begins community outreach, canvassing parents door to door. This leads to expanding training to two new Chicago neighborhoods: West Town and Humboldt Park. COFI holds first meeting to bring parents together across communities.

Two women at the first COFI peer training

COFI begins peer-to-peer trainings to build parent skills and engagement and expand capacity in three additional communities. Inaugural Celebration of Hope is held, bringing parents together from six neighborhoods to celebrate victories and mobilize for the next campaign.


Parents win commitment from Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to support 100 community schools that bring schools, parents, and nonprofit organizations together. COFI publishes “Putting Families at the Center of Community Action,” a report that came out of an exploration of parent leadership organizing nationally.  COFI kicks off its first parent lobbying day, Moms on a Mission, with state lawmakers in Springfield. Training begins in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

A group of COFI parents and staff with Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan
A woman gestures at a sign that has three possible names for a future parent coalition

Trained Chicago parents begin working together in a formal coalition, voting to call it POWER-PAC, Parents Organized to Win, Educate and Renew – Policy Action Council. With 1,300 Chicago parents trained, COFI launches its national training program for organizers and others beyond Chicago.


POWER-PAC launches the Elementary Justice Campaign to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. Parents win the removal of “zero tolerance” language in the Chicago Public School Student Code of Conduct and seed funds to launch the first school-based Peace Centers. Parents also kick off an effort to bring back recess for elementary students. COFI publishes Phase 1 and Phase 2 training manuals to bring The COFI Way to more organizations and communities.

People participating in a training
COFI parents at a Head Start outreach tent

COFI releases “Why Johnny isn’t in Preschool,” a groundbreaking report about why participation in early childhood education programs is so low and recommendations to address barriers. POWER-PAC takes on a new Early Learning Campaign and wins seed funds to launch Head Start Ambassador and Walking Preschool Bus projects. After the Great Recession hits POWER-PAC parents particularly hard, they launch Stepping Out of Poverty campaign to raise consciousness and advocate for policies that end racial and gender wealth gaps.


COFI releases “Parent Guide to Restorative Justice” and trains 300 parents in restorative justice practices. COFI starts to offer a regular calendar of national trainings.

Parents sit at a table and clap their hands during a Bring Back Recess media event. Behind the parents is a group of young, excited children wearing shirts that say Let Me Out and Give Me Recess.

In its 10th anniversary year, POWER-PAC wins major victory – the return of recess for all Chicago elementary schools. After three years of successful programs to enroll more low-income children in early learning programs, COFI publishes “How We Got Johnny, Jada, and José into Preschool.”


COFI releases “The COFI Way: Policy and Systems Change,” showing how low-income parents of color are becoming effective, innovative partners in policymaking. It’s packed with real-life stories from parents and interviews with prominent policymakers who got to know the parents at decision-making tables. Organizing grows to include new communities in Illinois including Aurora, Cicero, Decatur, East St. Louis, Elgin, Evanston, Skokie, and West Chicago.

A group of Latina women and children hold certificates to celebrate graduating from COFI training
A group of parent advocates during a national gathering with UPLAN

With national partners, COFI launches United Parent Leaders Action Network (UPLAN), uniting parents across the country to have a voice and impact on policies and programs that matter to families. “Strategies for Parent Engagement” is released, a COFI and POWER-PAC guide to engage parents across Illinois. The guide is used by the Illinois State Board of Education and school district leaders to include parents in improving school policies. 


POWER-PAC leaders vote to go statewide and POWER-PAC IL is formed with eight regional parent-led branches. The Illinois Early Learning Council passes parent leaders’ recommendations, including creation of a committee of parent leaders to provide authentic voice and input in early learning policymaking and increasing parent representation to 20% of the Council’s membership. COFI releases “Stopping the Debt Spiral,” highlighting surveys with over 300 families about how debt traps them and recommending policy solutions.

A woman in a blue POWER-PAC IL shirt talks about the "Stopping the Debt Spiral" report, next to a panel of other experts
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot gives a press conference alongside a group of decision-makers and advocates

POWER-PAC IL’s Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign’s recommendations and advocacy lead to historic reforms to fees and fines, eliminating 13,731 tickets and reducing debt in Chicago by over $5.2 million. 


COFI responds to COVID-19 pandemic, connecting virtually with parents to get them urgent information and resources. Parents move to virtual organizing to advocate for solutions about remote education, mental health issues for parents with young children, and support for undocumented families. POWER-PAC IL’s Elementary Justice Campaign joins with others to win a huge budget reduction for police in Chicago public schools, shifting resources to other safety responses. After years of advocacy, POWER-PAC IL wins one of the most comprehensive utility-focused relief plans in the country and holds a virtual town hall to spread the word to Illinois families.

An African-American man stands in front of several microphones during a press conference
Three women stand together during Phase 3 training graduation

Published the Phase 3: Policy & Systems Change manual of The COFI Way and launched training for organizers. Engaged 165 parents and children in hybrid Moms on a Mission winning major victories on Earned Income Credit expansion, Children’s Savings Accounts funding, and Early Intervention equity/access. Conducted nearly 1000 conversations statewide about child and family mental health and trauma issues.   

We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of those who built the organizational foundation of COFI:

Sponsoring Committee (1994-95)

Pastor Alvin Bergh
Lina Cramer
Barbara Engel
Jacky Grimshaw
Anne Hallett
Judy Hertz
Maria Mangual (deceased)
Della Mitchell
President Barack Obama
Elce Redmond
Amanda Rivera
Mary Scott Boria
John Schmidt
Coretta McFerron
Kaye Wilson
Ellen Schumer, Founding Director and President
Nancy Aardema, Founding Vice-President
Sandra O’Donnell, Founding Vice-President

Founding Board of Trustees (1996)

Carlos Azcoitia
Lina Cramer
Rosetta Daylie
Earl Durham (deceased)
Jacky Grimshaw
Anne Hallett
Sandra O’Donnell
Renae Ogletree (deceased)
Miguel Palacio
Amanda Rivera
Greg Washington
Kaye Wilson