A voice for the forgotten

Alumna takes a stand for incarcerated youth

Jill Chapman uses her law degree to help businesses, and to help children and families in need.Photo of Jill Chapman in front of Wayne Law

A 1985 graduate of Wayne State University Law School, she is a consultant for Chicago businesses, and board chair of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois.

It is the nonprofit work that engages her heart most of all at this stage in her life.

Chapman has impatiently pushed for expansion of the Regenerations program that serves youth, ages 12-20, in custody with Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and involved in the juvenile justice system.

“As a historic child welfare agency, our staff realized there were lost and forgotten youth in the foster care system,” she said. “These were older youth who had been written off and deemed beyond help. There were hundreds of older foster youth in correctional and detention centers around Illinois that were past the release date but remained incarcerated due to no program and no place for them to go. This was not acceptable to us. Nobody is beyond help; we just needed to develop the proper service and secure funds to run it.”

So Lutheran Child and Family Services, partnering with the state, other social service providers and academia, created Regenerations in 2007.

“As a board member and now chair, I support expanding Regenerations across the state, and nurture a vision with staff to make Regenerations become a best practice approach to addressing these youth. Longer term, we want to share the program with other states so children do not languish in detention centers. The need is great, but the funding is lean—a problem for all of us. If juvenile detention centers keep kids locked up beyond their release dates, they have failed our communities and our moral obligation to these children.”

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Jill Chapman

Regenerations connects these youth with caring family members, friends and/or people within the community to create a network of support. In addition, it provides the youth with intensive wraparound services, including a mentor, advocacy, education, life skills training, therapy and vocational training to help them be successful.

“Our ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism and positively impact the over-representation of foster care alumni in the adult correctional system later in life,” Chapman said.

Her legal training gives her a better ability to understand and “ask the right questions” about Illinois laws, she said.

“My education has provided added weight in discussions with legislators, board members, the inspector general and, of course, with other attorneys,” said Chapman, a Chicago resident who grew up in Dearborn. “I love to problem-solve and work with people, so law was a great path for me. Wayne Law is the only school I applied to. It had a good reputation and had a price point I was willing to pay. There also was a significant family connection. My parents were both Detroiters, met at WSU and had many friends who were WSU alumni. My dad received a BS in engineering from WSU.”

Chapman earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Calvin College, and also attended Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and WSU’s labor and industrial relations and management masters courses.

From 2004-09, she was managing director of benefits strategy for United Airlines, and from 2010-14, was senior director of benefits for OfficeMax. In 2015, she started her consulting work. In 2010, she joined the Board of Trustees for Lutheran Child and Family Services.

When she started law school, she had no specific career path in mind.

“I knew I wanted to live in a big city, have challenging work and make a positive impact in people’s lives,” Chapman said. “Early on, I shifted from practicing law to working in and eventually leading a human resources function in large corporations. My early career focus as an attorney and then as a business person was in pensions and retirement plans. My career focus expanded and changed over time to employee and retiree healthcare, health management and change management.”

“I’ve been involved in labor negotiations, mergers, acquisitions, organization restructuring and even bankruptcies. United was in bankruptcy when I joined, and within the year I was working with the federal agency in charge of terminated pensions. The variety of work and inevitable changes that occur in the life cycle of a business have kept my career interesting and challenging.”

Her own life cycle has had changes, too, over the years, and she’s more focused now than ever on making “a positive impact in people’s lives.”

“With my kids out of high school, I now serve on the Lutheran Child and Family Services board’s governance and HR committees,” Chapman said. “Since 2017, I have been board chair, leading both the board and the executive committee. The board monitors the intended ends and actual results delivered by the organization. This means we can impact the vision and mission of the organization.”

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