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Featured Philanthropist: Melissa Washington

Melissa Washington is the Senior Vice President, Customer Operations and Chief Customer Officer at ComEd. Both ComEd and Washington are long-time ChicagoCAC supporters – Melissa has been on our Board of Directors since 2013 and has had roles on our Development and Luminary Award Dinner committees. We sat down to talk to Melissa about what inspires and compels her to work with us, and about corporate and community responsibility.

Melissa, how were you initially connected with ChicagoCAC?

ComEd has historically supported the organization and I attended a few events that were unique, creative and fun. It was an environment for people to enjoy themselves – the conversation was easy-flowing, and you got to meet the staff – and they were raising money for a great cause. And then I did a tour and once you do a tour, it grabs you. As you walk through each step and you visualize the process, you put yourself personally in the position of the child. You can really tell the stark difference between what their experience may be traditionally versus the experience that they get when they come into ChicagoCAC.

What inspired you to work in your field and then particularly with ComEd, who you’ve been with for quite a while?

I would have never guessed nearly 20 years ago that I would be with a company this long! For  19 years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in various roles with the family of companies under the Exelon umbrella, and learn so much about the organization and industry. And in mid-December 2021, I transitioned to become the Chief Customer Officer for the company.

The commonality of my jobs is the opportunity to learn about people. I find energy from understanding their story, how I can be a partner or how I can help them, or if there’s a problem, how can I help solve that problem. I try to do jobs that feed my soul, and I select the nonprofit organizations I participate in for the same reason.

What resonates with you about our mission?

To me, the mission of ChicagoCAC is simple but complex. You wish you didn’t have to have a ChicagoCAC. But you’re so glad that you do. When a child is abused and gets involved into the system, everyone’s wanting to help make things better for that child, and the previous ways of doing things were not always better. It really resonates to me that under the traditional system, the child would have to tell their story multiple times to multiple people. If you think about that – one, you’re asking them to relive that abuse multiple times; two, depending on their age, their story may not be perfect every time; and, three, if that story’s not perfect, what risk do you have of losing pertinent information that could result in prosecution, or at least, the offender not having the opportunity to repeat that abuse for another child?

For me it’s very appealing that ChicagoCAC is bringing dignity and healing, and possible justice, to victims of abuse. And they do it with passion and compassion.

What is the most interesting thing about your work with ChicagoCAC?

What always strikes me about ChicagoCAC is despite the circumstances parents and children are under, the healing starts when they walk into the building. The parents are being taken care of too, and they’re in an environment that allows them to focus on being present for their child. If you didn’t have that, many of these parents – myself included – might want to be balled up in the corner crying.

When you look at who the victims of abuse are, it’s statistically often black and brown children. It’s compelling to me. You might already be dealing with environmental challenges when you are a minority, but it compounds the weight of those challenges to feel you are a potential target. I’m African American, and I think about my family and children I know, and to know that there’s such a high percentage of abuse occurring with young black and brown children, I feel like this is the least I can do to try to make things better.

And ChicagoCAC is also about education – making sure that people are aware that abuse is happening, and what it looks like. I know it’s a hard subject to talk about, but it’s so important. The more people know, the more you can focus on prevention.

Prevention is extremely compelling, and a great way to talk about our work to a broader audience to raise their overall awareness.

Because of ChicagoCAC, when I watch the news now, if I see a spousal abuse case, I automatically think about the children in need of healing. Or, you hear about a child abuse case – that child may have siblings whose needs have to be addressed too. There’s always a connection, there’s always an impact. We have to make sure people think differently about what they’re hearing and seeing, so they want to get engaged and involved to stop it.

And we want to see those case numbers come down, right? ChicagoCAC is in the business of healing, but we want to be in the business of prevention. When we can focus on prevention, it shifts the work that we have to do.

Tell us more about your perspective as an individual or corporate leader on giving back to your communities, whether that’s your community of color, or places like neighborhoods.

One of the things that has kept me with ComEd is that it is a company that understands its responsibilities. Keeping the lights on, it’s essential. We take that very seriously. But we equally take seriously our role as a corporate partner, and a civically engaged organization. And I’m very proud of that – we enable our employees to not only find ways to volunteer to support organizations, but also to attract funds to those organizations.

What I love about the whole Chicagoland area is that the same passion exists throughout the communities. To me, it’s important that the communities that you’re living in and that you’re serving are healthy, beyond just physical and mental health and safety, but also food and shelter. It’s the responsibility of everyone to chip in to make sure that we have a thriving community. As an organization that touches every household, it’s important that ComEd is engaged. And I hope that others in the Chicagoland area feel the same way.

You’re shared so many thoughtful reasons you support ChicagoCAC – what would you say to someone who’s just learning about us?

Take a tour – just the visual and the walkthrough would pull you in. But then I would say that ChicagoCAC makes lives and worlds better. It’s a committed and well-run organization and great collaborators. I love how ChicagoCAC partners with other CACs across the nation to share best practices, because people do benefit from the way that Chicago CAC approaches its work. And any organization that works with children should make sure their employees are equipped to understand prevention, safety, and how to identify concerns. I also encourage people to utilize ChicagoCAC’s training services, and just take some time to go through the website.

I want people to pause long enough to get to know a little bit more about the organization and engage in support. If people can find ways to engage even on a limited basis, such as financially or coming to an event once a year, it would make a world of a difference. There’s no better thing you can do than to invest in the future to make sure a child is growing up well, healthy and safe.

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