One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for March 2016

Upcoming Nonprofit Events In Chicago

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For many nonprofit and other social change organizations, March means the kickoff to many great nonprofit events in Chicago. Here’s a short list highlighting some key events that you might want to consider, as well as some opportunities to get involved.

  •  Netsquared Chicago  is kicking off Digital Storytelling Month holding a two-part session on digital storytelling on April 6th and April 20th. (Note: I am a former Netsquared Chicago organizer). Both sessions will be held at Harold Washington Library at 6:00 pm on both dates, and will feature an expert panel. Netsquared Chicago is also seeking help in organizing future events. If you are interested in attending, please sign up for the April 6th session and/or the April 20th session via Meetup.comboys-and-girls-clubs-logo
  • On April, 8, Boys and Girls Club of America and CA Technologies are partnering to host a Tech Girls Rock workshop at Union League Boys & Girls Clubs – Club One, located at 2157 W. 19th Street. Local IT professionals will work with tween and teen girls, focusing on a variety of fun workshops which cover computer coding and STEM training.
  • Open Books is raising funds for scholarships to Publishers Academy, a month-long writing camp in the summer that supports young authors as they create unique novels from conception to publication. For more information (including how to support the effort), please visit their Public Good donation site.
  • Are you a nonprofit freelancer? Consider checking out Freelancers Union Chicago, a group focused on making work – and life – a little easier for those who are freelancers and solopreneurs. On April 6th, check out their session focusing on How To Give Your Business a Growth Spurt. For more information and to RSVP, please head to
  • Cook County Commisioner  Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is sponsoring an ordinance to create a Cook County Commission on Social Innovation. If you’re interested in showing your support, this ordinance will be considered by the Cook County Board’s Business and Economic Development Committee in Room 567 of the Cook County building located at 118 N. Clark Street. The committee will be meeting on Tuesday, April 12 at 8:30 am to consider the ordinance, and you are welcome to come and show your support.
  • Finally, Chicago Geek Breakfast has resumed – please consider joining us for a morning of conversation, relationship-building, and….breakfast. Sessions are held at Wow Bao at 225 N. Michigan Avenue, and the next breakfast will be Thursday, April 14th at 7:30 pm. For more details, visit

There are many great social change-oriented, community,  and other nonprofit events in Chicago…and we would like to hear about them! Please let us know via our Facebook page or below in the comments. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Inside the Chicago Charity Challenge: Latham & Watkins LLP

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(Special thanks to Robin Hulshizer of Latham & Watkins for her time and insight)

One great thing about Chicago is a thriving community focused on corporate philanthropy. Amongst more community- and technology-based efforts, Chicago corporate philanthropy takes a unique approach, moving businesses beyond just monetary donations into building strong community partnerships. Chicago Charity Challenge focuses on building those relationships, with businesses and nonprofits focusing on joint efforts that have greater impact on the greater community.

At the recent Chicago Charity Challenge Awards Ceremony, I was invited to speak with Robin Hulshizer, Deputy Chicago Office Managing Partner at Latham & Watkins LLP, about winning the Chicago Charity Challenge’s Issue Impact Award for Latham’s partnership with Do the Write Thing, the primary initiative of the National Campaign to Stop Violence.

In all honesty, the awards ceremony was not only a great experience, but also provided a great “behind the scenes” examination of the Chicago Charity Challenge.

Although Latham & Watkins LLP had been working with Do the Write Thing for eight years, their involvement with the Chicago Charity Challenge began a year ago. Through the recommendation of Latham & Watkins Chicago partner Mark Gerstein the firm began participating in the Chicago Charity Challenge, further building its partnership with Do the Write Thing.

(Although Latham & Watkins was fortunate to have a partnership in place, many companies are not as fortunate or may be unaware of how to build a partnership. Thankfully, the Chicago Charity Challenge not only allows for currently existing corporate/nonprofit partnerships, but also provides “matchmaking” for companies seeking a nonprofit partner).

Latham & Watkins’ day-to-day partnership with Do the Write Thing is driven by the firm’s philosophy of “moving forward by giving back.” Robin volunteers as Do the Write Thing’s Chicago chairperson and she says her firm’s work with Do the Write Thing focused not just on impacting people directly, but focusing on impacting the issue of how youth learn when dealing with violence. Many of their efforts work to build strong families as well as eliminate barriers to education and well-being. Efforts are tracked via Chicago Charity Challenge’s user-friendly GiveTrak® online software for managing volunteer activities and tracking all charitable work done by company employees. Employees receive e-mail updates about the results and impact of their giving.

One of the most important elements of Latham & Watkins’ involvement with Do The Write Thing and the Chicago Charity Challenge is the impact of the work on all the parties involved, including:

  • Latham & Watkins employees feeling good about themselves and proud of their colleagues, understanding the bigger work picture, enhancing their non-Challenge work, and stronger internal reinforcement;
  • For Do The Write Thing, impact means that teachers receive lesson plans and other needed resources, as well as assistance in guiding classroom discussions; and
  • For students, it means recognition, connecting with mentors and other role models, the ability to write, and a newfound sense of confidence. (Robin recounted a participant who informed her, “I was a prior year winner, and now I’m at Georgetown”)

But the greatest aspect of Latham & Watkins’ participation in the Chicago Charity Challenge is a heightened sense of social reinforcement. As Robin explained, there is a competitive aspect to their work, but it is not about one employee vanquishing another. Although Latham & Watkins employees learn about their peers’ activities, they move forward not to “defeat” someone else, but because they know they can – and will – do better. As Robin Hulshizer says so eloquently,

Any time there is a healthy challenge to do better for the community, it is a positive thing….there is no downside.

And that’s precisely what makes Latham & Watkins – and the Chicago Charity Challenge – so vital to social change in Chicago.

Know any organizations that are doing great work in the Chicago community (around technology, social enterprise, business partnerships, etc)? Let us know in the comments section below or share on our Facebook page. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

March 22, 2016 at 7:56 am

How Pace Paratransit Ruined My Birthday

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Last Sunday was supposed to be a pleasant birthday – I was going to meet Mom at a nice venue in Oak Lawn, we would enjoy a nice lunch, and I would celebrate growing one year older in a relaxing atmosphere.

Mom’s had health issues over the last few years, making getting around very difficult for her. She’s also never driven a car, and getting in and out of vehicles can be a challenge. So Mom made arrangements with Pace Paratransit, which describes this service as

Paratransit service is the general term for a “demand-response” service in which a passenger must reserve a
ride in advance. Unlike fixed-route service, in which buses travel the same route in a regular pattern and pick up any waiting passengers, paratransit vehicles make only pre-arranged trips for riders who are eligible for the particular service.

(And yes, it’s the same “Pace” that provides bus service)

However, this is where it gets a bit tricky – Mom had requested a pickup for 11:50 am. (She lives in the Beverly/Mount Greenwood area). Pace Paratransit’s rule is that the driver has 20 minutes to arrive before they’re considered “late”. Our lunch was scheduled for 1:00 pm.

The driver arrived, according to Mom, at 12:21…which, if my math is good, is more than 20 minutes.

And the driver had other passengers to pick up. (That’s also another feature – you share a ride, often going on unintended road trips. Mom knows, because she received Pace Paratransit’s “rule book” when she signed up for the service).

So Mom arrived at 1:10….no problem. Just means that she has to leave later…so when the time came, Mom called Pace Paratransit to arrange a later ride.

To summarize….they told her she would have to wait a few hours. All she wanted was to wait twenty minutes.

It’s not cool when your mother scolds someone over the phone by saying, “You have the strangest rules – your drivers get twenty minutes before they’re considered late, and I was late for my appointment. Now, I have to rush because you’re telling me that I can’t change the time.”

As Mom and I waited for our Pace Paratransit driver, she also remarked about some other unusual rules: people getting rides have up to ten minutes to get to the truck before they’re considered a no-show. Three no-shows, and you’re banned from the service. (Of course, riders have the option to request help in getting into a vehicle, but Mom doesn’t need help getting to the vehicle as much as entering – and leaving – the vehicle. And Pace Paratransit drivers have always helped Mom when asked).

(Hearing Mom get upset on my birthday was a bit uncool….but in the interest of fairness, I’m directly quoting Pace Paratransit’s rule book. If this reminds you of the contract scene from a Marx Brothers movie, it’s unintented)

PICK-UP PROCEDURES: When possible, customers should be within the line-of-sight of the vehicle while awaiting pickup. Passengers are asked to be ready to board the vehicle within 5 minutes before the scheduled pickup time. Drivers will wait 5 minutes after arrival or after the scheduled pickup time, whichever is later.

SCHEDULING A TRIP: Customers should allow for a 20 minute pickup window. Penalties for Late Cancellation and No Shows: Range from a warning letters for the first and second violations; a 7 day suspension for the third; a 14 day suspension for the fourth and a 30 day suspension for the fifth. ALL THE VIOLATIONS HAVE TO BE IN A 30 DAY PERIOD.

Now at this point, you’re probably thinking, “Gordon, why can’t you be a good son and pick your mom up yourself? Or at the very least, have her take Uber or Lyft?”

On the second point – Mom’s on a fixed income. Plus, she has some mobility issues….like many of the senior citizens and disabled individuals who use Pace Paratransit services. (Many of whom are African-American or Hispanic). Expecting anyone to shell out for a lower-priced taxi service – or even regular cabs – is a struggle.

As far as me not driving Mom around, that’s easy – I don’t own a car. Even renting a car for the day provides challenges (finding one the right size for Mom). In addition, it takes away from Mom’s need to be independent – many of us who care for our parents and other relatives have to balance that against other life needs (like work, family, friends, etc). That’s what makes some of Pace Paratransit’s rules so bizarre – for a service that intends to help the elderly and less mobile, they make it very difficult to use those services.

And to be completely fair – I’m not blaming Pace Paratransit drivers or scheduling staff: they work hard to provide services. (I have ridden with Mom in Pace Paratransit vehicles for both doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping; I can’t find any fault with any driver). Sometimes scheduling staff can make things more difficult for Mom, but they also are fielding a wide variety of requests. And for those who are going to engage in the old “this is more social service that government shouldn’t pay for”…well, let’s see what happens when you or a loved one need it.

And that’s what bothers me most about this Pace Paratransit birthday issue: this is a service designed to help those who really need to get around, and to make it easier for caretakers. It’s not a free limosine service, but a way to empower those who are living with extreme difficulties. However, having a twenty minute wait period before a Pace Paratransit driver is considered “late”….then a ten minute period for a person with mobility issues to make it to the vehicle….and if you miss three times, you’re banned….and you can’t get a reasonable adjustment when the driver is late….just makes no sense.

It seems dismissive of our most vulnerable. Sadly, we live in a time when such compassion is not only unwarranted, but openly mocked. (Don’t believe me? Check out the comments on this post about Governor Rauner. For every person who is expressing issues around caretaking, there is someone else trotting out the usual negative counterarguments).

I was going to end this post with a cute request that, at the very least, Pace Paratransit buy lunch for me and my mother. But on second thought, a better belated birthday gift would be that Pace Paratransit examines its rules….and rethinks how it engages the people it is supposed to serve.

Because that would be a much more appropriate – and greatly appreciated – gift.

Not just for me….but for the people they serve.

Please feel free to make comments either in the section below or via our Facebook page. (If you want to reach me directly, simply use this “Contact Me” form). Comments are moderated.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

March 13, 2016 at 10:30 am

Choosing Boys & Girls Club of Chicago’s Youth of the Year 2016

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When a colleague invited me to the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago’s 2016 Youth of the Year celebration, I had expectations of just another nonprofit event. Nothing wrong with that – I enjoy checking out Chicago nonprofits – and I knew people who had worked with (and for) Boys and Girls Club, so all I expected was a splendid evening out at Navy Pier.

My expectations were more than exceeded – not only was the event a grand time, but the 2016 Youth of the Year event was not only a powerful reminder of the mission of Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago….but a critical reminder of the power of community, and that making a difference in a young person’s life can make a powerful difference.

Providing activities, services, and programs for Chicago youth, the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago has been around since 1903. Youth who become part of the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago are prepared to take on academic challenges, healthy lifestyles, and leadership roles. In a time when Chicago’s image is one of nonstop violence, the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago provides well-needed perspective, focusing on building communities from within through youth leadership development. In my past, I have worked with people who were involved in Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago – it was always one of those organizations I wanted to get involved with in my younger days. So attending this past Tuesday night was a great way for me to be reminded of that desire…but what I received was far greater. boys-and-girls-clubs-logo

Emceed by Micah Materre of WGN-TV, the Youth of the Year 2016 began with each of the eight candidates giving a short speech. Each of the candidates had a strong history of leadership and engagement with the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, and provided a powerful, eloquent speech about how the Boys and Girls Club mission impacted them in a positive way. and each candidate delivered a powerful, moving speech. (As I remarked to my fellow attendees, it was hard to just select one winner.) Candidates for Youth of the Year 2016 came from a diverse range of clubs in various neighborhoods:

  • Joanna Burns, Alcott Club
  • Aeriel Burtley, Jordan Club
  • Eve Houser, King Club
  • Marcos Mattias, Logan Square Club
  • Gerando Abrego, Little Village Club
  • Bridgett Dankwah, Pederson-McCormick Club
  • Christian Ortega,True Value Club, and
  • Temaris Dennis, Valetine Club

After the speeches were given, there was a great “auction” in which people were encouraged to bid on gradually decreasing amounts. The auctioneer would call out an amount, and people would raise their paddles to “bid” on the opportunity to donate.

There’s nothing quite like having an auctioneer start “bidding” at $25,000 – knowing he’s going to move his way downward – and have two people eagerly show their paddles.

The auction raised just under $250,000. I don’t know how to respond to that in writing.

As the evening ended, and Eve Houser (King Club) received the title of 2016 Youth of the Year, I was honestly moved by everything that happened that evening. I have always advocated for communities empowering people to take on leadership roles. But Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago takes that a step further, integrating that empowerment within the programs and services it provides to youth. But hearing eight stories about how their involvement in their local club impacted them – and fostered a sense of “giving back” in their own lives – touched me on a very deep emotional level.

My professional past involved working with community groups looking to make a small, but measurable, impact on their communities. For the first time in a long time, my own desire to make that impact was more than just a “nice feeling” – it was a common theme that sparked within everyone who attended. It was more than just another evening – it was a great reminder of both the impact we have on others….and the ways in which we can foster that spirit in others.

Attending Boys and Girls Club of Chicago’s Youth of the Year 2016 celebration, I found myself feeling less like this was another event….and more of a true celebration of community spirit.

And that’s always a great way to spend an evening.

Comments or questions? Please feel free to make them below or via our Facebook page. (If you want to reach me directly, simply use this “Contact Me” form)

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

March 9, 2016 at 6:52 pm