One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for the ‘Neighborhoods’ Category

Caregiving, COVID, and Defining the “New Normal”

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Being a caregiver means having a sense of flexibility and improvisation to balancing caregiving duties, work, and self-care. Dealing with COVID-19 in the past year has been especially challenging with everyday activities being reinvented and reconsidered. As Illinois and Chicago transition with more people vaccinated (including myself), our challenge is to determine the shape of the “new normal.” Here are some suggested principles that can not only benefit caregivers but provide support for the greater community as well.

Our primary guiding principle: Other People Matter – Throughout the pandemic, there have been incidents involving people harassing mask wearers, businesses defying state orders, and even racially motivated attacks in light of the pandemic. Empathy, like compassion, is no ordinary word. After a year and a half of relative isolation and changing social dynamics, perhaps choosing to understand rather than be understood is a more realistic approach to adjusting to post-pandemic life. As our culture shifts towards caregiving across a broader population, perhaps learning to speak to caregivers empathically can be a good start towards approaching others with respect, consideration, and dignity.

Remote Work Should Always Be an Option – Regardless of what some CEOs might proclaim, remote workers are at low risk of “losing their hustle”. In fact, more companies are adopting remote work policies because they can be more effective and productive. As a remote worker myself, I find that I can more easily balance professional and personal matters. For companies who may be reluctant to adopt remote work policies, there are resources like Cultivate Now that provide consultation and insight. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a contract worker for Cultivate Now years ago). Managing remote teams can be challenging, but reducing the need for transportation, specific office space, and promoting worker autonomy allows for greater productivity and effectiveness for both caregivers and other employees.

And speaking of “losing the hustle”…

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Let’s Lose the “Hustle/Crushing It” Mentality – Many individuals often promote the idea of always being “in the hustle” when it comes to generating business, promoting their career, or even in life. Another well-worn cliche is the idea of “crushing it” or focusing solely on the number of accomplishments in a given day. Post-pandemic, it may be wise to consider that both “hustling” and “crushing it” are myths that need to lose their prominence. After all, it is easy for professional “hustling” to devolve into hiding, choosing to focus on the immediate to avoid introspection. Besides, caregivers are masters of the “hustle” in that they negotiate several complex networks of service providers (including health care, elder care, and social services) in order to accomplish major goals. Staying humble yet focused yields much greater rewards.

Let’s rethink how we approach family leave and other self-care resources – Although there are federal efforts to expand family leave, this should not be the only solution for caregivers and other individuals. Male caregivers, especially, are more prone to deny the emotional consequences of caregiving yet experience higher levels of depression. Taking on the stress of caregiving along with other tasks (including self-care) can be daunting and draining for many individuals. Easing access to mental health and support services (including virtual and offline support groups) can provide some comfort to caregivers at greater risk of isolation. After a year of dealing with pandemic-related issues along with caregiving matters, facilitating the use of community-based resources can assist with moving forward into a healthier future.

Let’s be honest: moving back to a old sense of “normal” is neither practical nor realistic. Our culture and everyday rituals have living were disrupted by COVID-19, and moving back towards “good enough” should not be an option. We have a great opportunity to integrate compassion and empathy into our culture after a very prolonged period of disruption and unrest. We have experienced how antisocial, disruptive, and misinformed forces have actively shredded the social fabric. Now, it’s time to begin reweaving that fabric for our community, because we’re all caregivers to each other.

Questions? Comments? Leave them in the space below. Please join the conversation on our Facebook page, or email us directly.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

May 12, 2021 at 9:26 am

Meet Your Neighbor: Klava Fund

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(Special thanks to Stephen Klava of Klava Fund for his time and insights)

Crowdfunding and fundraising can be challenging for many individuals and organizations. Small businesses are at greater risk for closing due to COVID-driven financial pressures, and other mission-driven organizations find themselves wondering how they can meet their immediate expenses within a short period of time. Thanks to Steven Klava of Klava Labs, the Klava Funds app provides an opportunity to drive small business success and gain critical fundraising and crowdfunding skills.

Available on Android and iOS, the Klava Fund app was built on Flutter SDK in Dart and arose from the growing cultural transition towards digital cashless transactions. Stephen Klava saw a need for nonprofits and other mission-driven organizations to raise funds easily as a substitute for cash donations. Users can create a new campaign centered around a hashtag as a unique identifier, and the Klava App provides immediate social media distribution (allowing people to “get on board” and easily track success) as well as QR Code functionality. Unlike larger platforms such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter, the platform is easy to use and, most critically, takes a grassroots, community-based focus to its outreach.

Just ask the Evanston family who lost everything in a fire before Christmas. Thanks to the support of a good samaritan, the family found shelter and a place to figure out the next steps. The good samaritan developed a sign-up sheet for the greater Evanston community and contacted Stephen Klava through LinkedIn, to create a Klava Fund.

Identifying and addressing needs is a theme throughout Stephen Klava’s life. With a degree in mechanical engineering from Bradley University, Stephen Klava worked in the water treatment and product development fields in the private sector. Although his work was primarily in the suburbs, Klava wanted to shift his priorities and focus on Chicago-specific initatives. After learning Java and other coding platforms, Klava worked for an IT consultancy which specialized in various platforms (including LinkedIn, Salesforce, and earning a Google Partner designation).

Although initially created to help nonprofits and mission-driven organizations, the Klava Fund app is setting its sights on Chicago-based small businesses. For example, bars and other socially-based venues can use the app integrating photos to raise small amounts of funds to cover expenses. Theaters can use photos of performances to drive small campaigns to pay smaller bills. The Klava Fund has also opened a new Ambassador program for those who want to help others (especially people with smaller networks on social media) start and run a successful campaign.

But what does Klava Fund need right now? It needs more grassroots networking efforts. With many small businesses, organizations, families, and individuals struggling to make ends meet, the Klava Fund wants to work directly with the community. Initiatives like Oak Park’s Takeout 25 in other areas can be great opportunities for collaboration and cooperation with Klava Fund. In a time when connection and collaboration is sorely needed, Stephen Klava has provided an opportunity for small businesses, individuals, and other organizations to foster that spirit through the Klava Fund.

Have questions? Please leave them below or join the conversation via our Facebook page.

As always, thanks for reading!

Celebrating Black History Month 2021 in Chicago

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Over the years, this blog has covered organizations, businesses, and individuals working in Chicago’s black community towards social change. In the spirit of Black History Month, we’re highlighting posts around community-based social change agents. We’re also very enthusiastic about recent news concerning research into digital divide issues on Chicago’s south and west sides.

So join us as we start from the present and work our way back in our effort to highlight some great community efforts (and some critical topics) as part of our Black History Month Celebration.

June 2020 – Lighthouse Foundation

November 2019 – North Lawndale Employment Network/Sunshine Enterprises Collaboration

August 2019 – Seke Ballard/Good Tree Capital

February 2019 – E.G. Woode 

August 2018 – Chicago Cred/Pullman

May 2018 – Paschen Scholars/95th Street Red Line Work

December 2017 – Radio Islam/Net Neutrality Discussion

September 2016 – Colin Kaepernick/Social Justice

April 2016 – Prince’s Music and Social Change

February 2016 – North Lawndale Employment Network

July 2014 – Sunshine Enterprises

October 2013 – Digital Access as a Human Right

September 2012 – Imagine Englewood

Although we have featured several organizations in the past…we acknowledge that there is always room for improvement. If you want to recommend an organization for us to highlight during Black History Month, please let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page. If you wish to email us directly, please use this contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

February 3, 2021 at 7:37 am

Raks Inferno 5/15 Fundraiser: Asian Americans Advancing Justice

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(Special thanks to Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek for bringing this to our attention)

In the wake of COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in racist and xenophobic attacks on Asian-Americans. In March, a Chinese-American man was attacked in Naperville, and their city council meeting highlighted further racist attitudes. In an effort to counter these efforts, Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) is holding a streaming Facebook circus/cabaret performance on Friday, May 15th at 8:00 pm CST.

Featuring a cast of Asian-American performers from around the country, Raks Inferno: I Am Not a Virus hopes to raise funds and awareness for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization that builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity”.

Performers for this Friday’s event include

Many arts-based organizations and nonprofits are turning to live streaming their events in order to maintain their presence and engage their audience. In the midst of a public health crisis, it is easy to forget that we are all connected as a community. We encourage you to check out Raks Inferno: I Am Not A Virus on May 15th at 8:00 pm via Facebook…but more importantly, we ask that, if you can, please donate to Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

It’s easy to forget that COVID-19 affects a large number of people and has a devastating impact on many communities. We encourage you to support a local organization working to alleviate a harsher impact on a major Chicago community.

Hope you can attend!

(Please note that we welcome comments here and on our Facebook page, but comments will be moderated. Thanks for reading!) 

Written by gordondym

May 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

COVID-19, Caregiving and Compassion

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As my mother’s caregiver, I have learned how to handle various aspects of life including job seeking, freelancing, self-care, and creativity. In the midst of the current coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, I find myself reflecting on the lessons I am learning about self-discipline in isolation and self-care and how these impact my caregiving effort.

One of the greatest ironies that I perceive is that my own tendency to self-isolate and keep my distance has served me well when it comes to my social distancing efforts. Dealing with an immunocompromised mother (due to a liver transplant and anti-rejection mediations) has increased my awareness and sensitivity around preventing potential complications. My own efforts towards self-care had increased before the pandemic with an increased motivation to care for my physical and mental health. (Like many other male caregivers, I can drift into depressive episodes if I am not careful). My social activities have increased slightly, but are still erratic: given their professional and personal responsibilities, touching base with others can be challenging but I am experiencing an increase in connection).

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

However, this “leveling of the playing field” has also lessened the obvious stress and strain on my caregiving efforts. Recently, I had to run two short (but critical) errands on a quarter-mile stretch of a major street. Except for the occasional dog walker, the street was devoid of cars and pedestrians. Walking down that stretch on a Friday afternoon had an eerie, silent quality which had a calming effect on me. Both venues that I visited had a moderate number of patrons, many of whom were rushed to acquire what they needed and get home. Having time to spend on personal and creative efforts has helped alleviate the perpetual fear of missing out that comes to me regularly as a caregiver.

One of the most powerful effects of being a caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic is that I have a greater sense of empathy and compassion towards others. It is not just an effort to pay the kindnesses shown me forward, but to actively and assertively express that compassion. Self-isolation and social distancing may presently be the most compassionate acts towards others, but being able to show (and receive) smaller kindnesses can be rewarding. It’s never easy; last week was especially challenging since I served as an election judge for the 2016 primary; had several events cancel at the last minute, and an effort to run an online screening did not go rather well. Despite my desire to last out in anger, keeping my cool and remaining calm comes more easily from a compassionate approach.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Compassion as a caregiver can be challenging, especially when dealing with negative or obnoxious behavior. On the lighter end, many people do not know how to speak to a caregiver so dealing with those lapses in judgment can be annoying. But on the other end, with many people taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by hoarding hand sanitizer or buying out supplies from a Dollar Tree can be especially infuriating. (Especially since many caregivers deal with relatives who may have intestinal or digestive problems). However, compassion in challenging times comes from the smaller kindnesses of friends. Unexpected gifts both physical and emotional, ranging from an unexpected video chat to a surprise coffee mug, provide plenty of fuel for being compassionate as a caregiver.

We are living in uncertain, disquieting, and anxiety-provoking times. This is not a feel-good solution, and should not be read as a dismissal of those facing especially challenging times. One of the greatest lessons that I continue to learn as a caregiver is that compassion may not always be easy, but it is extremely necessary. 

I would enjoy hearing from others and getting their perspectives: please leave your comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you wish to comment privately, use this email contact form.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe!

Written by gordondym

March 24, 2020 at 8:07 pm

Caregivers & Health Care: A Complicated Relationship

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As a caregiver for my mother, I frequently interact with our health care system. Having received a liver transplant ten years ago via Medicaid and Medicare, my mother has also experienced other health consequences including kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and chronic heart disease. Last Friday, my mother went in for an angiogram on her liver (to determine flow) while I struggled with a skin infection on my arm. Although my mother and I belong to different health provider networks, navigating the health care system for caregivers and the people they care for provides the basis of a love/hate relationship.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

My mother had scheduled the procedure for 12:45 pm on a Friday, with our arrival time at 11:15 am. (Thankfully, I had called my doctor for an appointment about my skin infection the previous week, but was sent to Immediate Care due to a lack of appointments) A notification text the day before had indicated the time moved up to 2:45 pm, but my mother had clarified the time since we were depending on medical transportation. So we were both surprised when that Friday, at 5:30 am, we received a call from the transportation provider asking if we could be ready for a 7:00 am pickup. From that point,

  • We arrive at the hospital with nothing in their records about Mom’s appointment. After being bounced through various departments, we learn where we’re supposed to head, and we’re allowed in.
  • After arriving at the appropriate department. , we wait for Mom to be prepped. To kill the boredom, I sign up for text notifications about Mom’s procedure. While waiting, I call my primary care physician for follow-up; luckily, I’m able to schedule an appointment in between job search efforts and watching YouTube.
  • Once Mom is formally prepared, I grab lunch and sit in the family lounge. My time is spent writing, doing some job searching, and catching up on social media.
  • After making my way into the family lounge, I wait for another two hours when I am notified by an attendant that Mom is heading into her procedure. During this time…
  • I receive a call from Mom’s transportation provider; after I apologize for the delay, the driver informs me that his manager does not want his drivers out after 5 pm, necessitating a last-ditch effort (Spoiler: hospital staff ensured that we had transportation home), and
  • I discover that it was #NationalCaregiversDay on Twitter, and a tweet declared that “Caregivers are the health care system” and that caregivers “rock” at negotiating health care services.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

And that’s part of the problem: too many people advocating for caregivers do not understand the totality of negotiating the health care system. (Watch the above video from Last Week Tonight With John Oliver for details). Rather than focus on advocating for systemic changes, these advocates tend to focus on more superficial issues. Many caregivers dealing with the complexities of the health care system on top of their caregiving duties have a greater risk for compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout. There’s a lack of acknowledgment about the burden and toll of caregiving on the individual, substituting self-help platitudes for more adaptive caring strategies and fostering connection and community.

But the greatest challenge in negotiating health care is engaging in self-care as a caregiver. Many caregivers are more likely to sacrifice their own health when caring for an elderly relative, and some caregivers experience health issues as a result. (Mental health issues for caregivers, especially male caregivers, are also critical). Caregivers are rarely reminded that self-care is not an indulgence, but a discipline. Negotiating a complicated system only adds to a caregiver’s stress; working to “game the system” makes it harder for caregivers and their relatives.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Final note: I was fortunate to learn that my skin infection was easily treatable with antibiotics.  However, getting to that point involved negotiating a tricky, often contradictory system that lacks empathy for patients and their loved ones. With the recent focus on public health issues around the coronavirus, it would be tempting to take a less even-handed tone about health care. However, caregivers – like many other people – have a complicated relationship with health care because of bureaucracy, costs, and lack of access to services.

And it shouldn’t be – health care is not an indulgence, it’s a right.

Please join the conversation via our Facebook page or leave your comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

February 27, 2020 at 9:17 am

Why Supporting Chicago Neighborhood Small Business Matters

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Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

One of my 2020 blogging resolutions was to highlight Chicago neighborhood small businesses as part of the Meet Your Neighbor series. I had even chosen my first business to highlight: B-Sides Coffee and Vinyl, a really cool coffee shop at 99th and Walden Parkway across from the Metra Rock Island Line station. I had frequented B-Sides Coffee (including many cool shots on my Instagram account)…and then read on Facebook that B-Sides Coffee & Vinyl will be closing on January 31st. 

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered a local business closing: both Peace of Pizza on 95th and Wood and Ellie’s Cafe at 107th and Hale also closed within the past three months. Although this blog has highlighted local small business efforts in the past (like Local First Chicago and Small Business Saturday), it’s hard not to grieve when a neighborhood small business like Cas Hardware in Andersonville closes its doors. It’s like a beloved member of the community dies…

Because, quite honestly, it is.


Community and neighborhood-based small businesses don’t just empower others. (I have consulted with organizations like Greater Southwest Development Corp, and have attended events at the Beverly Area Planning Association). A community or neighborhood-based small business drives tax revenue, fosters employment, and serves as an anchor for the community. Although there are many programs to foster entrepreneurs (like this collaboration between LISC Chicago, NLEN, and Sunshine Enterprises), those who start a small business in their community face multiple challenges.

One of those challenges is the attitude that local businesses are more expensive – and less convenient than – than their larger competitors. “Big box stores” like Walmart and online retailers like Amazon serve as an excellent example of this attitude, since ordering online is much easier than going to a physical location. However, customer convenience comes at the cost of the community.  Although technology makes acquiring certain goods easier, the result is lesser interaction and connectedness. (Case in point: I live within a half-block of a Starbucks, yet chose to walk down four streets to B-Sides. It was a more relaxing atmosphere, they served excellent Metropolis Coffee, and I was more productive in writing and social interactions). Small neighborhood businesses also solicit business from other local neighborhood vendors, fostering a greater sense of community within any Chicago neighborhoods.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski - Taken at B-Sides Coffee & Vinyl

Photo by Gordon Dymowski – Taken at B-Sides Coffee & Vinyl

Unfortunately, one of the other challenges comes from the “crushing it” mentality of startup culture. This “lone wolf with a vision” mentality focuses on ‘hustle porn’ as gospel truth, choosing to follow “gurus” like Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Robbins rather than the dictates of logic and smart business sense. WeWork’s issues over the past year are one example of this attitude’s potential destructiveness: the “win-win” business mentality applied to social change is another example.

(Before you argue – yes, some neighborhood and community-based small business owners are not immune to these attitudes. Yes, some tech startup entrepreneurs don’t subscribe to the above mentality. But both types of business deserve support and effort. Running a non-tech-oriented, brick-and-mortar business that is neither franchise nor multi-level marketing requires time, effort, and resources. A neighborhood small business owner commits to serving the larger community, and that requires greater support from members of that community).


So what’s the solution? Simple: Support small business in your neighborhood sooner rather than later. Although I had supported the three Beverly-based businesses I stated in the introduction, they were not immune to the challenges facing community-based small business owners. Many Chicago neighborhoods face the challenge of driving economic development and small business growth. Although some entrepreneurs are succeeding in their efforts (see Good Tree Capital and cannabis-based businesses in Chicago), many others still require ongoing support. It is never easy, but it’s the neighborly thing to do.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to plan a final visit to B-Sides Coffee and Vinyl. It’s the least I can do.

Please leave your comments below or join the conversation on Facebook. If you have a suggestion for a Chicago-based small business to highlight on this blog, please contact me via email.

And thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

January 16, 2020 at 12:48 pm

Meet Your Neighbor: & Chicago Tenants

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(Special thanks to Hanna Kaufman of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois for her time and insight)

Navigating landlord/tenant issues can be tricky for many Chicago apartment renters and can be especially complicated for people in low-income areas. Getting landlords to make necessary repairs or negotiating the return of a security deposit can be difficult, but tenants facing eviction often lack critical resources including representation. Legal resources for low income and underrepresented tenants can alleviate housing concerns, especially since eviction filing rates are higher in neighborhoods of color which lack such resources. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Hanna Kaufman of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois about, a new site that empowers Chicago tenants to exercise their rights and negotiate the legal process.

A collaborative effort between the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) and Illinois Legal Aid Online, is an online tool that allows Chicago tenants to think through a problem, develop appropriate letters and other documents, and get referred to legal services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Tenants can also text ‘Hi’ to 866-7RENTER to access the tool as the YouTube video demonstrates). Although limited to issues around repairs/conditions that affect livability and safety, security deposits, and eviction, Rentervention helps tenants through the process through using chatbots to determine the source of an issue and referring them to a “virtual clinic” (staffed by two full-time lawyers) for more extensive issues. (Although virtual clinic lawyers are available during normal business hours, Rentervention is working on after-hour access to attorneys).

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

In its first six months, Rentervention has made a significant impact in addressing the imbalance of legal resources between Chicago landlords and tenants, as well as helping guide people towards needed resources. By casting a wide net in their outreach, ensures that everyone – including low-income residents – were able to access appropriate legal services and tools. Highlights of the site’s overall impact include

  • Rentervention has been used in two-thirds of all Chicago zip codes, including 60647 (Logan Square), 60619 (Chatham), 60615 (Hyde Park), 60626 (Rogers Park)
    and 60611 (downtown)
  • 40% of Rentervention users have focused on concerns related to building conditions.
  • Rentervention users have spent 47 cumulative hours on the site, crafted 79 letters to send to landlords and downloaded tenant guides 127 times.

One of the more intricate tasks that Rentervention performs for Chicago tenants is assisting people in negotiating complicated situations in a scalable, sophisticated manner. As Ms. Kaufman explained, criminal law advocates for the notion that everyone is entitled to a lawyer, yet civil law (which involves issues such as housing, domestic violence, and custody among others) does not guarantee representation. When examining legal activity around evictions between landlords and tenants from 2010 to 2017, LCBH discovered that landlords were represented  79% of the time, while tenants had attorneys 11% of the time. Sixty-two (62) percent of tenants without legal representation had their cases result in eviction, while only 22% of cases with legal aid attorneys ended in eviction orders.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

The other major impact that Rentervention has had on landlord/tenant legal concerns is the remediation of cases before they head into a formal court setting. Tenants who are seeking needed repairs in their apartment can use Rentervention to craft a formal letter to their landlord and avoid seeking legal redress. Knowing whether certain landlord/tenant policies applied to them provides Chicago tenants who use Rentervention an opportunity to understand their responsibilities. Finally, with relative anonymity and access via laptop or mobile device, Chicago tenants in low-income neighborhoods have the ability to engage and access legal services that may not be immediately available.

When I lived in St. Louis,  I became familiar with property management issues through writing a policy white paper on malicious landlords and problem properties. Negotiating landlord/tenant issues can be especially difficult but as Hanna Kaufman of the Lawyers Trust Fund informed me, is working exactly as everyone involved had hoped. Although limited in its scope, is ensuring that Chicago tenants know their rights under the law and have resources to exercise those rights. With housing issues becoming increasingly prevalent in current times, it is very heartening to know that there are tools like that enable and empower every Chicago resident.

Thoughts or questions? Please leave your comments below or join the conversation via our Facebook page. Please check out other entries in our “Meet Your Neighbor” series or contact us directly via this email form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

December 11, 2019 at 11:07 am

Building Entrepreneurship: LISC Chicago, NLEN & Sunshine Enterprises

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(Special thanks to Taneka Pernell and for Loren Williams for their time and their insights

Entrepreneurship is more than just creating a new initiative; it also consists of doing the work that moves that initiative forward. LISC Chicago recently facilitated a partnership between Sunshine Enterprises’ Community Business Academy and the North Lawndale Employment Network. Both organizations recently put on a twelve-week session focusing and financial and other business-related skills (like marketing) to help local community-based entrepreneurs make progress in running their business. As Caroline Rendon, LISC Chicago Program Officer explains,

“LISC saw an opportunity to bring the longstanding FOC’s coaching expertise to a strong entrepreneurship training organization, and a partnership was born…The partnership between NLEN and Sunshine is really a matter of these two organizations coming together with their own expertise to demonstrate the value of this approach to financial coaching.”

Since we highlighted both Sunshine Enterprises and North Lawndale Employment Network on this blog in the past, we were fortunate enough to receive insights into this partnership from representatives from both organizations.

Please tell me your name and how you’re affiliated with the LISC Chicago/Sunshine Enterprises initiative in North Lawndale?

Taneka: My name is Taneka Pernell. I am a Financial Capability Coach with the North Lawndale Employment Network, working within the Financial Opportunity Center; which is a branch of the LISC Chicago network. LISC married the concept of having Sunshine Enterprise’s entrepreneurs financially coached by North Lawndale Employment Network’s financial coaches.

Loren: My name is Loren Williams and I am the Regional Director at Sunshine Enterprises. I have taught the 12-week Community Business Academy in partnership with New Covenant CDC for the past 3 years. I have also coached entrepreneurs in business for 3 years in North Lawndale. LISC has provided funding for us, which has allowed us to partner with North Lawndale Employment Network to provide credit counseling to our entrepreneurs. c-now-north-lawndale-01

How did you get involved in these efforts?

Taneka: LISC chose our FOC over many to take on this project. Our then director; approached me to take on this opportunity for NLEN. I was in soon as expectations and goals were laid out.

What is it about this collaboration that appeals to you?

Taneka: Hard to decide what didn’t appeal to me about this collaboration; being educated on and seeing the efforts that Sunshine places into building up the entrepreneurs are great motivation.

I believe that LISC and Sunshine Enterprises see and believed in the work that North Lawndale Employment Network is doing within the FOC and know that this collaboration as great as well

Loren: This relationship proved to be very valuable to our entrepreneurs in that it helped them improve their credit scores which positioned them to access capital for their businesses.

North Lawndale is a neighborhood that has some very specific challenges. Please describe some of those challenges, as well as highlight the successes that you have seen or experienced.

Taneka: As a Financial Coach within the North Lawndale community, one of the greatest challenges I see is that the community is severely underbanked. Unlike other communities, North Lawndale has little to no banks, leaving residents to seek less favorable and untraditional alternatives to banking. However, North Lawndale Employment Network will soon open our newest location that will include a space with Wintrust Bank, bringing a much-needed banking option to the community.

Loren: North Lawndale is one of many under-resourced, underserved communities. One of the resources that are lacking are resources for entrepreneurs. Through the Community Business Academy and our Business Acceleration Services, we have been able to help many of our entrepreneurs start or scale their businesses.

Entrepreneurship” can often be overused to the point where it becomes just another buzzword. Please tell us how you perceive the NLEN/Sunset Enterprises collaboration fostering entrepreneurship in the community.

Taneka: We are bridging the gap between just using the word “Entrepreneurship” with the actual actions of what it takes to become an “Entrepreneur”. Sunshine Enterprise provides the participants with the small business blueprint and provides a warm handover to us at North Lawndale Employment to work with the participants on personal finances; both of which are needed to become a great small business owner.

Loren: Both organizations have a strong mission to uplift, support and grow the community. The NLEN/Sunshine Enterprises collaboration fosters entrepreneurship in the community through its various programs to help people start and grow their businesses.


What current and potential benefits are you experiencing personally or professionally?

Taneka: It’s great personally and professionally getting to know each entrepreneur and what they have to offer. I have been able to get great gifts for my friends and family supporting small businesses. Also, North Lawndale Employment Network has used several of the catering businesses for various events.

How have participants (whether they’re businesses or individuals) described their experience in this program?

Taneka:  It has been great feedback; I think people truly understand how and why this collaboration works weather they’re a participant or individual.

What I hear a lot from participants on our end, is that now that they have gotten their personal finances in order, they can now take what they have learned and apply it to how they handle their small business finances.

Loren: Many of our entrepreneurs have reported starting and growing their businesses, improving their credit, purchasing a home, etc.

Finally, how do you expect this collaboration between NLEN and Sunset Enterprises to further impact residents and businesses in North Lawndale?

Taneka: We have truly seen this partnership come full circle, North Lawndale Employment Network happily refer participants who are a part of our program and interested in building a small business to Sunshine Enterprise. I expect this collaboration to go further helping expand and create more small businesses within our neighborhood.

Fostering community-based entrepreneurship presents a unique set of challenges, especially in key Chicago neighborhoods. Thanks to LISC Chicago, Sunshine Enterprises and North Lawndale Employment Network are rising to the challenge.

You are more than welcome to join the conversation by leaving a comment below or visiting our Facebook page. If you wish to send a private message, you can use this email contact form.

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

November 21, 2019 at 4:30 am

Belmont Cragin: One Chicago Neighborhood’s Renaissance

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Belmont Cragin is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets: it’s a neighborhood that has been experiencing a renaissance. This renaissance was driven by a collaboration between the Northwest Side Housing Center and LISC Chicago which engaged community residents around community and neighborhood development in drafting a Quality of Life Plan (QLP). As Jose Quilles (the blue-shirted man in the photo above) explained,

LISC Chicago has been working with the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) and other neighborhood partners for several years on the Belmont Cragin Quality-of-Life Plan (QLP), and published the first-ever QLP created by the neighborhood in 2016. The planning process helped engage local residents to organize, then realize, a collective vision for their community’s future,” said Jake Ament, LISC’s Neighborhood Network Director. “The drive of neighborhood leaders and organizations working together on a single roadmap shone a spotlight on the strong assets but clear needs of Belmont Cragin—making many of the initial projects envisioned a reality and leveraging over $170 million in investments in just three years.”

Recently, we interviewed James Rudyk, Jr. Executive Director of Northwest Side Housing Center, which is the lead agency for the Belmont Cragin Quality of Life Plan, for his insights into the process.

How did you get involved in developing the Quality of Life (QLP) plan?

The NWSHC began talking with LISC-Chicago in 2013 sharing the needs that we were seeing in the community and our ideas for proposed solutions. We believed that the establishment of a QLP would help organize and assemble resources needed in the community to help the community combat issues of increased violence, gentrification and displacement, and much-needed resources for our youth. After three years of working with LISC, we were selected as the lead agency of the Belmont Cragin QLP in 2015 and began the planning process. As a result, we created the first-ever community plan for Belmont Cragin from 2016-2018. We are currently in the process of working to update the QLP for 2020-2025. 

As a member of the Belmont Cragin community, how do you perceive the process of developing the QLF Plan?

Jose Quiles is an active community member, and Quality of Life Plan participant, and was key to the organizing campaign for one of the biggest QLP achievements: a new elementary school. He shared, “This [the NWSHC] is the only organization I see where the community takes the lead. We gave birth to Mary Lyon Elementary in 1995 because of overcrowding, and here we are in 2019 with the same problem. But when the community speaks out and the mayor hears us, that’s a victory itself.”

What current and potential benefits are you experiencing personally or professionally?

Since our QLP in partnership with LISC-Chicago, we have invested over $170 million dollars in Belmont Cragin including additional community resources, affordable housing, a new public elementary school, and community center. We have seen a more united community that is also more resilient, able to withstand and bounce back from trauma and adverse experiences. We have also seen the community become more engaged and organized uniting to secure additional resources around a common agenda that has brought additional investment from Chicago Cares, Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, CDOT, Chicago Park District, the Chicago Fire, and Chicago Public Schools.

Finally, how do you expect the QLP plan to affect Belmont Cragin in the future?

We are changing the way in which community planning happens, instead of a top-down approach in which decisions are made by those in power for communities, we are identifying and responding to the needs of the community and developing resident leaders to lead the planning process. This changes the inherent power imbalance between community members and those in power. Through this process the community will remain educated, engaged, and empowered for years to come.

Community and neighborhood engagement work most effectively when residents and stakeholders involved are included in the process. When discussing the success of the Belmont Cragin Quality of Life Plan, the most successful strategy that Northwest Side Housing Center and LISC Chicago implemented was engaging neighborhood residents in the planning process. Thanks to these efforts, Belmont Cragin receives a variety of benefits which include

Such changes only result from a spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Thanks to that spirit, Belmont Cragin is one Chicago neighborhood that’s experiencing a renaissance.

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