Maria Whelan Legacy Fund In Support of the Leadership Institute

VIDEO: Watch this short video to learn or be reminded of the impactful life and legacy of Maria Whelan.

Invest in the Maria Whelan Leadership Institute, Invest in Our Future.

Maria Whelan was Illinois Action for Children’s leader, a dear friend to many, and a true believer that children matter most. She spent her 50-plus year career as a strong, fierce, and relentless advocate for children and families in Illinois and throughout the country. To honor her life and legacy, Illinois Action for Children is creating the Maria Whelan Leadership Institute (MWLI), the first initiative of the Maria Whelan Legacy Fund.

Maria believed that the best ways to support children included supporting and partnering with the adults in their lives—especially the teachers, the providers, the staff, and the advocates—who are the child care and early education workforce. These are the people who teach, nurture and care for children during the times their parents cannot.  

With that in mind, Illinois Action for Children assembled a committee comprised of Maria’s peers, IAFC colleagues, and members of her beloved family to create an impactful initiative that will honor her legacy and advance IAFCs mission. The MWLI is being designed to strengthen the early childhood (ECE) field by:

  • Developing leaders and advocates who can help redefine excellence in the field.
  • Advancing racial, gender, and economic equity for child care providers, families, and children.
  • Growing the pipeline of highly-skilled professionals and advocates to ensure the stability of the early childhood sector.
  • Increasing high-quality providers/educators who will provide children with the excellent, equitable academic and developmental experiences.

Where We Are Now

The Maria Whelan Legacy Committee has created a framework and our Core Design Group is developing the formal program structure and curriculum.

How You Can Help

Your generous contribution to The Maria Whelan Legacy Fund will help us to establish and operate the MWLI for many years to come. 

Together, we can elevate the child care and early education profession, so all our children are ready for school and ready to thrive.


Maria Whelan Legacy Fund Committee


  • Carol Ronen
  • Judith Walker-Kendrick

Core Committee:

  • Larry Mages
  • Catherine Merritt
  • Gail Nelson
  • Linda Saterfield
  • Ellen Whelan-Wuest
  • Maeve Whelan-Wuest

IAFC Staff Liaisons:

  • April Janney
  • Sandy Matthews
  • Shauna Ejeh
  • Sari Rubin

Emerging Leaders Fellowship

Learn more about the Maria Whelan Leadership Institute's newly launched Emerging Leaders Fellowship, designed for mid-level early childhood education and care professionals who seek to advance their leadership professionally and civically.