Jeff Thielman
Created The Center for the Working Child in Peru - serving thousands of children and families
Practiced Law
Established dozens of schools across the nation in urban, underserved areas
As President of Spy Pond Association, helped to secure $1 million in funds to improve park.
Elected four times to Arlington School Committee, worked to keep clear focus on improving teaching and learning for all members of the school community.



Elected and Community Service


Growing Up

Jeff Thielman was born in Meriden, Connecticut, a working class community that once had a strong manufacturing industry. Jeff attended public schools, became an Eagle Scout, and worked during high school and college as a sports reporter for the Meriden Record Journal, a daily newspaper that served central Connecticut. His father still operates a tire and car repair shop in Meriden, and as teenagers Jeff and his siblings worked in the shop, changing tires and doing routine work on cars.

Jeff’s mother was a public high school math teacher for 37 years. Upon her retirement, she earned a Ph.D. in education and now teaches at a local university. His maternal grandfather, a first generation Italian-American factory worker with an 8th grade education, served 20 years in the Connecticut State Legislature. For many years he chaired the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor.

His mother’s devotion to education, his father’s career as a small business owner, and his grandfather’s public service profoundly shaped Jeff Thielman’s life.

Jeff moved to Massachusetts in 1981 to attend Boston College. He had a knack for making friends and advocating successfully for student needs and was elected President of the Undergraduate Student Government in his senior year. The most profound experience for him at Boston College, however, was a week he spent as a volunteer in Appalachia. The exposure to poverty and a call to respond to it caused Jeff to look for opportunities to work with needy people.

Creating the Center for the Working Child in Tacna Peru

In the fall of 1985 he entered the Jesuit International Volunteer Program (known then as the Boston College International Volunteer Program) and was assigned to work in Tacna, Peru. The South American nation was one of the poorest in the continent, and during Jeff’s time there the country was ravaged by a bloody civil war. He began his work as a teacher at a Jesuit-run high school and eventually met a group of street children shining shoes, washing cars, and selling newspapers to earn money for themselves and their families. The meeting with the street children prompted Jeff to work with his high school students to establish an after school program for working children in an abandoned building in town. The project became known as the Cristo Rey Center for the Working Child, and expanded to offer academic classes, training programs for adults and a soup kitchen.

In 1987, Jeff convinced local authorities to give him two acres of land upon which he began construction of the permanent home of the Center for the Working Child. Jeff oversaw the construction of a facility with classrooms, a kitchen, and recreation space before returning to the United States in 1989 where he continued to raise funds for the project. Today the Center serves 300 poor families by offering educational programs, a legal clinic, food program, fully staffed medical clinic, the services of a team of social workers, and a number of other programs that support children and families. Jeff co-authored a book, Volunteer: With the Poor in Peru (Paulist Press, 1991), which chronicled the founding of the Center and his experience in Peru.

The Center for the Working Child is now its 28th year of service. More than 12,000 children and families have been served by the Center since its inception, and each year the medical post at the Center sees more than 15,000 patients. To learn more about Jeff’s work in Latin America, please visit The Jesuits have opened four other centers in Peru modeled after the program Jeff founded, which was recently renamed to Cristo Rey Center for Children and Adolescents.

Cristo Rey Schools

After his three-and-a-half years of service in Peru, Jeff entered Boston College Law School and graduated in 1992. He was admitted to practice law in Massachusetts and Connecticut. After two years as a trial attorney at a small Boston law firm, he took a sales position with a financial services company. In late 1997, Jeff returned to his first love – education – and became the first Development Director of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School of Chicago, a new school the Jesuits had launched on the south side of Chicago for low-income students.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School offered a totally unique work-study program that enabled center-city youth to pay for the majority of the costs of their education. Jeff joined the staff of the school in its second year of operation, when it had 160 students and 20 staff members. The close knit faculty and staff worked hard to create a school that eventually had enormous success keeping students in school and sending them to college. The combination of work and a rigorous yet supportive academic program caught the eye of educators and philanthropists around the country.

In 2000 venture capitalist B.J. Cassin established a foundation to replicate Cristo Rey Jesuit High School as well as the NativityMiguel middle schools, which were started by the Jesuits and other religious congregations. Cassin hired Jeff, who was moving back to Massachusetts to marry Christine Power, a native of Lexington. Jeff and Christine settled in Arlington in 2001, and that same year Jeff set up an office for the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation at Boston College.

From 2001 to 2009, Jeff oversaw the start-up of 24 Cristo Rey schools and helped found the Cristo Rey Network (, the umbrella organization that manages the growth and quality of the Cristo Rey schools. The foundation under Jeff’s leadership made start-up and feasibility study grants to start 40 NativityMiguel schools, and Jeff played a role in establishing the NativityMiguel Network.

Today, the nation’s 28 Cristo Rey schools serve 9,000 students who work at more than 2,000 companies. More than 1,300 people work for the Cristo Rey schools, and collectively they generate more than $125 million in revenue. The schools only serve low-income students, with most qualifying for the federal free/reduced lunch program.

In 2009, Jeff stepped down from overseeing the national replication effort to become President of North Cambridge Catholic High School, which converted to the Cristo Rey model in 2004. The school had run three consecutive years of deficits and had struggled to secure work-study placements for its students. Jeff worked with the Board and the Archdiocese of Boston to move the school to a new location in Dorchester, and in 2010 the school was renamed Cristo Rey Boston High School. See to learn more.

85% of the students at Cristo Rey Boston High School qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program, the highest percentage for any traditional high school, public or private, in the city of Boston. Under Jeff’s leadership, the school’s has doubled its operating revenue in six years, increased enrollment by 60%, and for the past five years 100% of Cristo Rey’s graduating seniors have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. The school has initiated a course of studies and remediation program that is helping students who enter high school one or more grades below level make substantial academic progress. By senior year, all students take at least one Advanced Placement course.

The turnaround of Cristo Rey Boston was chronicled in a case study (see Two books about the Cristo Rey schools, “More than a Dream”, and Putting Education to Work tell the Cristo Rey story and Jeff’s role in it. Jeff and the Cristo Rey schools have been featured in numerous books, television and radio broadcasts, and newspaper articles, and Jeff has spoken throughout the country about the Cristo Rey schools.

Jeff and his wife, Christine, have three children. Two are in elementary school, and the youngest will enter elementary school next year.

To learn about Jeff’s work in Arlington, please see the link marked “Arlington”.

His book, Volunteer: With the Poor in Peru (Paulist Press, 1991), details the founding of the project.  To obtain Jeff’s book, please visit


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