CHICAGO — A program launched by a former Chicago Cubs star pitcher is helping mentors become champions for hundreds of middle schoolers in Chicago.

In 2014, Kerry Wood and his wife, Sarah, founded a program through the Wood Family Foundation (WFF) aptly named ‘Pitch In,’ an after-school mentoring program for middle school students.

The first Pitch In program was founded in North Lawndale and in the nine years since, the program has expanded to five schools throughout Chicago, the latest being in the Englewood neighborhood.

“Our mentors at Pitch In talk to us as a friend,” said Marcus Dumas, an eighth grader at Sumner Math and Science Middle School in Lawndale. “One time in fifth grade I was feeling down, grades weren’t the best I could do and Mr. Al, he helped me and he encouraged me to keep trying and do better.”

According to Chicago Public School dropout statistics, the most pivotal years for help and intervention preventing students from dropping out is during middle school, which WFF’s website says is the most underserved student population in Chicago.

Laura Muriello, Pitch In’s executive director, said the impact of the program is immense and provides a sense of fulfillment for the mentors who help volunteer through the program, and while she said they are making great progress, Pitch In could always use more mentors.

“We look for mentors from all walks of life, people who are willing to come into our school once a week, three or four times a month, and just spend time with our kids,” Muriello said. “[We need] to be champions for the students, bring resources, and just show them there are people in the community that care about their success.”

Pitch In is hosting its annual storybook gala next Friday at Morgan Manufacturing. For more information on the gala, visit the Wood Family Foundation’s website.