One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for August 2016

Care For Friends: Impacting Homelessness in Chicago

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Serving the homeless in Chicago can be a challenge for many organizations. Identifying and counting an exact number can be challenging due to the inexact nature of homelessness in Chicago. Many nonprofits make strong efforts to provide services to this population, but one nonprofit – Care For Friends – takes a very unique, compassionate perspective towards serving the homeless in Chicago.

Founded in 1986, Care For Friends began as offshoot of the Church of Our Saviour. However, Care For Friends is not a completely branded, separate organization focused solely on providing resources for homeless and at-risk individuals. Through their efforts, Care For Friends hopes to make an impact on homelessness in Chicago, either through prevention, direct intervention, and most importantly – empathy.

One key difference between Care For Friends and other nonprofits is that it does not receive any government funding nor do they engage in social enterprise. All of their funding is provided through individual donations, allowing them to make a more direct impact on homelessness in Chicago. Given factors like the current budget crisis in Springfield, Care For Friends can serve the Chicago homeless population without worrying about funding sources ending. Care For Friends also avoids the usual  bureaucracy and paperwork around government funding, focusing solely on serving those needs which impact the homeless population in Chicago.

One of the ways in which Care For Friends differs from other programs is their lack of a formal intake process. When working with individuals facing homelessness in Chicago, Care For Friends doesn’t refer to them as clients or participants, but as guests. These actions reinforce the idea that homeless individuals in Chicago deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Unlike social service agencies burdened by heavy caseloads and grant requirements, Care For Friends fosters a greater sense of empathy for the homeless, seeing them as individuals and not as “numbers.”

Another factor that makes Care For Friends unique is their programming, which integrates both practical and traditional services. Although they provide toiletries and clothes like other programs, Care For Friends also provides nutritionally balanced meals three days a week. Participants are allowed to wash their laundry on the premises, and Care For Friends is looking to expand their capacity for service. Care For Friends even provides foot care and basic preventative medical services for the homeless in Chicago. These may seem like small efforts, but smaller efforts often lead to greater results….and with many at risk for homelessness in Chicago, small services provide some relief and comfort.

Care For Friends does this primarily through volunteers – in fact, Gary Kenzer, Executive Director of Care For Friends, is the nonprofit’s only paid staff member.

Like many other nonprofits, Care For Friends holds a variety of events (including a reception in late September), but their Sleepout for Homelessness on January 27th, 2017 is  especially noteworthy. Started in 2016, the Sleepout is an effort to drive awareness about the experience of homelessness in Chicago – participants are given a tent and $5, and have to find a place to sleep for the night (from sunset to sunrise). Participants are also encouraged to post/tweet/blog about their experiences.

Now, this may seem rather superficial – after all, being homeless is a more long-term state than a one-night deal. (Especially given recent news about an Arizona couple declaring themselves “homeless”….on YouTube). But one key factor impacting homelessness in Chicago is the lack of deep, empathetic awareness.  We’re used to seeing homeless individuals downtown or near north, but homelessness is impacting our neighborhoods. It’s easy to forget that for many people in Chicago, homelessness isn’t an abstract, but a potentially scary – and powerful – future. By driving a sense of empathy and caring, Care For Friends fosters a more humanitarian – and hopeful – method of preventing and lessening the impact of homelessness in Chicago.

Many agencies strive to meet the challenge of working with individuals affected by homelessness in Chicago. Care For Friends is a well-needed ally…and a nonprofit that deserves your attention.

Comments? Questions? Ideas for other organizations to check out? Please feel free to let us know in the comments 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

August 29, 2016 at 9:23 am

My (Not-So) Secret Life in Tobacco Prevention

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C Now - Jeff We Can Yesterday, a new-ish colleague and I were having a conversation. You know, the good, old-fashioned get-to-know-you conversations that people tend to have. One of the topics that came up – and which surprised my new colleague – was my background in tobacco prevention.

Granted, it happened in St. Louis (rather than Chicago), but in looking back, I realize that working in tobacco prevention was not only one of the more challenging – and rewarding – jobs I ever had, but that it helped shape my approach to community organizing, mobilizing, and advocacy. (And makes a great opportunity to join my fellow Chicago Now bloggers in a Blogapalooz-hour effort)

Flash back thirteen years: I had left Salvation Army, who had taken over my contract from the Greater St. Louis Treatment Network. (It’s no longer in existence) Having worked with homeless shelters to assess residents for chemical dependency issues, I wanted to change – I wanted to work in prevention (a life-long goal), but I also wanted to work in policy.

In short, I wanted to make a greater impact.

So after six months of unemployment, I was hired by the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse in St. Louis. They knew my professional goals, and not only assigned me to various community groups….but also put me in charge of tobacco vendor education.

(Yes, there will be a lot of talk about Missouri….but it will pertain to Chicago. I promise).

So every year, in February, several centers throughout the state received a data set of tobacco vendors combining data sets for two departments. Our job was to clean up the data, visit vendors, and provide training and consultation for violators. This was part Missouri’s efforts to reduce tobacco sales to minors, or “reduce Synar rates.” This helped the state retain money, NCADA gain resources, and more importantly, make sure that kids did not get access to tobacco.

But besides that, I was also involved with several policy-oriented efforts, helping push smoke-free ordinances in many areas. For a time, I even chaired the Tobacco Free Missouri Coalition. And every moment of it was fun…and hard work. Tobacco prevention work is not for the weak of heart.

For two months, it was a thirty-minute drive to the office at 7:00 am. Fueled by caffeine, I would cull the initial data set, develop assignments for staff, and organize freebies. (In fact, I actually found some old incentives to integrate: To-Do pads, state-mandated signage, and pens. Lots of pens). By 9:00 am, when everyone else arrived ready to start their day, I was in full gear. This was on top of other tasks: working with thirteen different coalitions (ranging from north St. Louis to far, rural Missouri), other volunteer tasks, and dealing with typical office politics.

But it was also a great period in which I learned how community organizing and mobilization works on a grassroots level. When the opportunity came to work in College Hill – one of the more higher-profile neighborhoods in north St.Louis – I volunteered. There’s no better way to learn about local politics and civics than working with city alderman and mayors. I needed to get organized – much like my tax attorney father and bookkeeper mother, January through April became my busy time. Every moment I spent working felt like a new opportunity to learn. Every day, I found myself working through an immense task that brought people together…queuing Maxwell Smart…

But in time, I needed to move on….and ended up leaving to join another related position. In time, I had to leave that position to come back to Chicago. In those early months of my return, I tried to find a position related to my past tobacco prevention work…but Chicago’s success in smoke-free advocacy, plus the way public health funding is structured in Illinois, made it rather difficult…and I ended up shifting my professional focus, getting involved in Netsquared Chicago and other like-minded organizations to keep my hand in the game.

But even with Netsquared Chicago, I still retained the lessons I learned in tobacco prevention: working hard to stay organized, understanding the politics involved, and remembering that any kind of community organizing involves some common good.

It was the hardest I’ve ever worked…but it was a job that I truly loved. And which I miss.

(And yes, if the opportunity to work in tobacco prevention ever arose, I would seriously consider it)

Your thoughts? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook page. (Also, we realized tobacco and smoking can be a very touchy subject – we will moderate comments to make sure everyone has a chance to express their views. If you want to reach me directly, check out our About Me page or use this “Contact Me” form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Want to receive updates via e-mail? Just type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Written by gordondym

August 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

Meet Your Neighbor: Youth-Led Tech

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(Special thanks to Toni Irving of Get IN Chicago and Kyla Williams of Smart Chicago Collaborative for their time and insights).

On August 5th, graduation ceremonies were held for a group of 100 teenagers who learned web coding and other computer skills. These teens participated in a program called Youth-Led Tech, which provided seven classes at five sites throughout select Chicago neighborhoods.

Youth-Led Tech is the result of a strong collaboration between Get IN Chicago (focused on programs which provide evidence-based outcomes around poverty, young people, and their families) and the Smart Chicago Collaborative (which works on improving lives of Chicago residents through technology), Youth-Led Tech is a program that deserves greater advocacy, and greater awareness…in short, Youth-Led Tech is an innovative, forward-thinking  approach to both digital excellence and community development.

Much of this is due to GetIN Chicago and Smart Chicago Collaborative finding common ground – and room for collaboration – in their missions. One of the key determinants was a focus on developing technological skills and moving away from a purely “social service” approach. Technology is a growing field, with the potential for the number of technology jobs outpacing the number of qualified applicants by 2026. But Get IN Chicago and Smart Chicago Collaborative faced another challenge – with technological literacy comes related skills, including general literacy. So Youth-Led Tech had to integrate a diverse range of approaches – technology, workforce development, and communication – into a robust, aggressive curriculum. But Youth-Led Tech also took a holistic approach to teaching youth about technology, focusing on all aspects of a youth’s life. For example, part of the curriculum involved entrepreneurial and job search skills to insure that participants could utilize their skills after completing the course.


Another key aspect that Get IN Chicago and Smart Chicago Collaborative integrated into Youth-Led Tech was that results were measurable (deliverable outcomes) and youth feeling invested in the program (their voices are heard). Building on the initial collaboration, Youth-Led Tech also sought out other champions, including Microsoft (who provided laptops for graduates of the program), as well as organizations, small businesses, and local champions. Part of Youth-Led Tech’s goal was to provide youth the opportunity to engage in entrepreneurial efforts – to use a metaphor, to not only teach youth how to fish, but to say, “We’re teaching you to fish – here’s the rod.” By combining technology skills with other, more basic professional skills (such as networking and business development), Youth-Led Tech has created a very powerful strategy for community development, workforce development, and driving small business entrepreneurship.

Teens were not only encouraged to develop their entrepreneurial skills, they were encouraged to network with local businesses. Other organizations like Teamwork Englewood, Greater Englewood CDC, Cisco, and Microsoft were also brought on board. (In fact, Microsoft provided laptops for youth during the program, which youth received as a “reward” for successful completion). Participants in Youth-Led Tech were encouraged to create sites and social media channels for local businesses – examples of work performed by youth in each neighborhood includes:

Moving forward, Youth-Led Tech seeks to insure that their program will make both immediate and long-term impact. Currently, they are having conversations with the MacArthur Foundation about funding the evaluation piece. Other plans for Youth-Led Tech include scaling the program, transitioning it from a summer to an after-school program, and connecting with employers both large and small about possible employment/work opportunities for youth. Ultimately, both Get IN Chicago and Smart Chicago Collaborative are looking to insure that Youth-Led Tech’s efforts move forward, focusing on practical and possible efforts, insuring ROI (return on investment) and sustainability.

Youth-Led Tech is a very innovative program, resulting from the collaboration of two like-minded organizations, that works to drive digital excellence in some critically underserved Chicago neighborhoods. Their accomplishment on August 5th needs to be celebrated, because Youth-Led Tech isn’t just about training – it’s about crafting the next generation of tech-savvy workers who will drive community and economic development in Chicago’s neighborhoods.

And Youth-Led Tech is definitely a neighbor worth meeting…and knowing.

Know any other unique, community-based collaborations in the Chicago area? Any organizations you believe are worth seeking out? Please let us know below in the comments below, or start a conversation on our Facebook page. (If you want to reach me directly, simply use this “Contact Me” form or via this blog’s About page.)

And as always, thanks for reading!

Want to receive updates via e-mail? Just type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Chicago Charity Challenge Returns To The Big Leagues

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As many of this blog’s readers know, we love hearing – and highlighting – great initiatives that drive social change, social benefit, and social impact in Chicago. One of those initiatives involves corporate philanthropy – companies partnering with nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations to make a definite impact. Many readers are also aware that we’ve highlighted the past efforts of the Chicago Charity Challenge (or “ChicagoChaCha”) in the past, focusing on their unique model which fosters competition between company/nonprofit teams in fundraising goals.

Recently, the Chicago Charity Challenge welcomed 16 new and returning company teams that are working to make fundraising and philanthropy a competitive team sport. New and returning companies represent 11,349 employees throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. Facing off in the 2016 Chicago Charity Challenge, these teams will work towards dual goals: raising the most funds and providing the most volunteer support to their select nonprofits. Through the Chicago Charity Challenge’s friendly competition, corporations and their charity partners focus on Chicago-area issues of hunger, homelessness, poverty, disability, and disease. (Last year, Chicago Charity Challenge participants raised $14 million and volunteered 46,000 hours to aid 581 qualifying nonprofits). Employee teams are also building strategic partnerships that exponentially multiply giving efforts through meaningful, long-term relationships with their charities. C Now - Blogapalooza Post 03

One new addition to 2016’s Chicago Charity Challenge is their “Farm League” – a way for companies that want to try out the Charity Challenge to participate without making a full-fledged commitment. The Chicago Charity Challenge Farm League provides prospective companies a chance to foster philanthropic spirit throughout their organization in preparation for becoming a full participant in 2017. Plus, like their full-blooded Chicago Charity Challenge all-stars, Farm Leaguers have the opportunity to use GiveTrak™, a volunteer and fundraising management tool which enables companies to measure, track and report their employees’ volunteer hours and donations in real time. Given this “practice run”, Farm League teams can strengthen their fundraising and collaborative abilities for a strong 2017 championship season. Farm League teams can potentially win special recognition for their team, or a small grant for their charity partner. Organizations interested in starting a Farm Team should contact

Current Chicago Charity Challenge business/nonprofit teams are going the distance, raising more more than $5.5 million and over 9,500 hours of service during the first 2 months of the 2016 Chicago Charity Challenge. Current Chicago Charity Challenge teams include:

  • Think Ahead / Gateway for Cancer Research
  • Associated Agencies / Jarrett Payton Foundation
  • Astellas / Have Dreams
  • Chicago Fire Soccer Club / Chicago Fire Foundation
  • CNA / Chicago Lights
  • GGP / Open Books
  • Harley-Davidson Financial Services / Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
  • Kolcraft / March of Dimes
  • Latham & Watkins / Do the Write Thing
  • Mesirow Financial / Brighton Park Neighborhood Council
  • Motorola Mobility / Citizen Schools
  • NCSA / The Sports Shed
  • Paramount Staffing / Advocates for Adolescent Mothers
  • PwC / Youth Outreach Services,and
  • The Scion Group / Horizons for Youth

Our primary blog mission is to highlight unique efforts and collaborations that drive social change in Chicago. We’re really grateful for the opportunity to highlight organizations around the entire city, showcasing unique strategies that benefit the greater community. The Chicago Charity Challenge, with its emphasis on driving corporate philanthropy, has taken a strong lead in building a better Chicago, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to advocate on their behalf.

But we’re always willing to highlight efforts around the city, including those hidden, more grassroots/community-based initiatives that need a little spotlight. If you know of any organizations, please feel free to share them share them in the comments section below, or let us know via our Facebook page. (If you want to reach out privately,  simply use this “Contact Me” form or any information via this blog’s About page)

And as always, thanks for reading!

Want to receive updates via e-mail? Just type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Written by gordondym

August 4, 2016 at 11:26 am

Millennial Trains Project (Follow-Up)

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As mentioned in last week’s post, the Millennial Trains Project pulled into Chicago on Tuesday morning. With its focus on encouraging Millennials to get involved with social innovation, Millennial Trains Project shows incredible promise in terms of engaging individuals. Holding a small reception (with speakers) at Coalition: Energy, we were graciously invited to witness the event. Today’s post is a summary of events from the Millennial Trains Project’s event, as well as some encouraging news. (For those who attended – if we’ve forgotten anything, please let us know below in the comments)

Fabian Elliott, Founder and CEO of Black Tech Mecca Inc., kicked off the Millennial Trains Project event with some remarks about both of the day’s speakers. Starting with Jimmy Lee of Good City Chicago, Elliott discussed how the organization helped Black Tech Mecha acquire fiscal sponsorship and formal 501c3 nonprofit status after launching in June. But it was his remarks about Kurt Summers that were the most striking, referring to the City Treasurer as a potential “future mayor of Chicago.” In discussing Summers, Elliott discussed how Summers first engaged Black Tech Meca back in January, when they launched a “State of the Black Tech Ecosystem” event. After learning about the event, Summers eagerly offered assistance, even to the point of giving opening remarks at the event. Summers wanted to be involved, seeing it as an opportunity to open the City Treasurer Office’s doors to the greater community.

Following Fabian Elliott’s opening remarks, Jimmy Lee of Goodcity Chicago then spoke at length about his past and current work. In fact, Mr. Lee described how the participants in the Millennial Trains Project were the kinds of individuals that Goodcity Chicago was looking for, and that their mission was to develop social change entrepreneurs in the city of Chicago. Jimmy Lee’s professional career took some interesting turns – choosing to become an engineer out of three potential choices (two of which were “lawyer” and “doctor”), Mr. Lee then found himself wanting to get involved in a nonprofit organization, but then gained an internship within the Governor’s office. Within two months, Mr. Lee oversaw an agency within state government, and after a brief engagement with politics, began work with a foundation and traveled to 35 countries. In his words, Mr. Lee had “set out to make a difference”, and his experience with NGOs and nonprofits led him to observe that financial investments change the fabric of a society….and also led him to ask “Is money the only way to invest in organizations?”

Returning to Chicago, Mr. Lee wondered how an organization could foster entrepreneurship, which led to his involvement with Goodcity Chicago. Goodcity Chicago is a nonprofit/social innovation incubator. Noting that most nonprofit organizations are started due to funding (and not necessarily a community need), Goodcity Chicago decided to focus on quality versus quantity when it comes to supporting nonprofit organizations. In fact, Goodcity Chicago also takes a slightly different approach to investment, creating a portfolio of investment for organization rather than direct funding. (With an emphasis on impact investment, Goodcity Chicago’s donors are between 25 – 45 years old, donate approximately $1500 – 3000 per year, and women make up 77% of the total donor pool). In reaching out to Millennials around the need for social innovation, Mr. Lee cited several traits that drive Millennials in this area, including a sense of community, a need for significance, and a desire to make an impact. His goals for Goodcity Chicago include moving the organization from an incubator into becoming a “human investment firm”, with the ability to scale their work. Mr. Lee ended by citing research from a professor at Loyola University, which cited that the two main qualities that define professional success are not money and training….but hope and motivation.

Mr. Lee was quickly followed by City Treasurer Kurt Summers, who provided insights and input around social innovation, as well as overall community, economic, and business development. His main theme centered on the idea of “changing the value proposition of Chicago”. In the past half century, Chicago has lost a million people in its population (due to “white flight” as well as a shrinking middle/working class), and with a new economy evolving in the US, many manufacturing/industrial-based companies are leaving cities. One of the key challenges for the City Treasurer’s office is to continue to track investment and talented people throughout Chicago, but also the continual need for investment moving forward. (One of the highlights of his talk was discussing Fund 77, which would be focused on neighborhood investment to be owned by local entrepreneurs and local business owners). One of the other insights that Summers discussed centered around a paradox: Chicago becoming on of the top cities for attracting foreign investment, but really cannot become a world-class city if other segments are left behind.

This is one of the key ideas behind social innovation and social entrepreneurship: seeing business impact beyond the immediate profit margin, and into how business functions impact the greater community. Summers cited McDonald’s plans to move into the West Loop as a model: although they are bringing a network of individuals and companies with them, this ecosystem will have an immediate impact on other functions on other community aspects such as public transportation and local housing. Summers also cited the example of Under Armorin Baltimore, whose corporate philosophy and functions allow for the growth of the company to provide for the advance of Baltimore. One of the key concerns that Summers addressed was economic empowerment of African-American communities in the Chicago area. Citing that as the primary concern of the next half century, Kurt Summers stated that efforts should be made to foster everyone’s path to economic growth while managing to maintain the overall fabric of the community. (Summers also pointed out some ideas that would support this, such as the city’s current plans to increase the minimum wage, as well as a “Responsible Contractor Policy” and maintaining a healthy relationship with unions.

Much of this strikes at the heart of the Millennial Trains Project’s mission…and why having them stop in Chicago was so critical. As a current “hotbed” of technological innovation, Chicago holds a unique place. We reside in a state that has taken huge strides in driving social innovation and entrepreneurship as an engine of economic development. If we are fostering the next generation of social entrepreneurs, it is vital that we begin developing policies and thinking within our civic structures. (For those who believe we’re downplaying the efforts of nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations, we strongly believe that when it comes to social change, it’s all hands on deck. Everyone has a stake in community improvement).
To be honest, there’s much more I could write about…but putting it simply, Millennial Trains Project is getting it right. Its mission is taking on social innovation and social change on an incredible level. This was one organization that I’m proud to have gotten to know.

Comments? Questions? Ideas for other organizations to check out? Please feel free to let us know in the comments 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!

Want to receive updates via e-mail? Just type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Written by gordondym

August 2, 2016 at 8:49 pm