One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for the ‘Social Impact/Social Enterprise’ Category

Meet Your Neighbor: COOP Careers

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(Special thanks to Kalani Leifer for his time and insight)

On September 15th, COOP Careers launched their inaugural cohort of first-generation and low-income college students in Chicago after launching similar programs in Los Angeles and New York. Recently, I had the chance to speak with Kalani Leifer, Founder and CEO of COOP Careers, to learn more about the organization and its community-driven approach to workforce development.

At the start of the 2008 recession, Kalani Leifer had chosen to volunteer with Teach for America and served as a high school history teacher in New York. He was also part of a new startup high school with an initial class of 120 students. Watching students develop strong peer-to-peer relationships over time, Leifer wanted to work to ensure that these “trailblazers” were able to succeed rather than languish post-graduation. In Leifer’s view, it would be seen as a broken promise to the students, and that their hard work and dedication meant nothing.

COOP Careers was initially launched in New York in 2014 with three cohorts. With its mission around overcoming “underemployment” in first-generation and low-income college graduates through digital skills and peer connections, the organization sought out corporate partners to build out the program and fuel upward mobility. (Partnering with corporate entities like IPG Mediabrands, their programs focus around digital marketing and data analytics) Describing the growth process as “organic”, Leifer related how the first two cohorts of that year would serve as “credible messengers” and advocates within the greater community. In 2005, COOP Careers took on two alumni as coaches as they launched two new cohorts, and added a third and fourth cohort that year.

As Leifer described it, this became a form of “alumni mobilizing” as past COOP Careers participants became passionate advocates of the program. Providing referrals for potential employment, outreaching to various other community organizations, and serving as coaches for future cohorts, past participants in COOP Careers ensured that the program would thrive. As cohorts were launched in Los Angeles and San Francisco, COOP Careers continued to see its grassroots mobilization-style approach to identifying new communities and launching further cohorts.

Although COVID complicated COOP Career’s plans for a Chicago launch, Kalani Leifer indicated that it provided to be a “silver lining”. Alumni captains were able to perform their duties virtually. In many ways, the Chicago cohort followed the COOP Careers model: engaging the initial community with the idea and watching it grow and develop. Referring to COOP Careers’ approach as “grassroots mobilization” is not too far from the track, as the program works to not only train future professionals but establish and strengthen a strong peer network that can foster professional growth. As Leifer himself remarked, “Launching a career is hard; it shouldn’t be lonely.”

COOP Careers has established a firm presence in Chicago and is a well-needed resource. They’re also a neighbor worth knowing.

If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you want to contact the blog via email, please use this form.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Raks Geek: Celebrating Pride Month With Two Events

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As Chicago prepares for reopening, Raks Geek is hoping to reengage their audience with a series of online and offline shows. Led by director Dawn Xiana Moon, the performance troupe is hoping to not only celebrate Pride Month (several members are from the LGTBQ community), but also begin to hold events that ensure the safety and health of attendees following the past year and a half.

Raks Geek - Troupe Photo
Raks Geek

First, Raks Geek will kick off the “Peek-Easy” series of performances at the Newport Theater this Friday, June 11th.

Each 45-minute show is performed in front of a limited in-person audience and designed for those looking for a responsible night of debauchery! Performing two 45-minute shows, Raks Geek will feature both live performance and digital acts focusing on belly dance, fire spinning, and other acts. In an effort to ensure safety, the Peek-Easy shows will limit their audience to fully vaccinated patrons (two weeks past their final shot) per Chicago’s “Vaccine Exemption” guidelines. Since Raks Geek features several prominent LGTBQ+ performers, their June 11th show is a great opportunity for representation and engagement. More information can be found via their Facebook event page, and tickets can be ordered via

Raks Inferno: Dawn Xiana Moon
Raks Inferno – Dawn Xiana Moon

If you are unable to attend this Friday, you can easily attend Raks Inferno: A Virtual Circus Cabaret (Pride Edition) next Friday, June 18th, at 8:00 pm streamed live via Facebook. Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) focuses on belly dance, fire spinning, and other performance arts without cosplay. Part of the proceeds from the June 18th show will benefit Brave Space Alliance, Brave Space Alliance, the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ center located in the city’s south side.

As Chicago gradually reopens, it is important to remember that all groups are deserving of respect. At a time when racial attacks against Asian-Americans and homophobic and transphobic incidents are increasing nationwide, it is important to understand the need for representation, compassion, and empathy transitioning out of the pandemic. As Dawn Xiana Moon stated in an earlier interview,

Part of this starts with who controls the narrative: I firmly believe that it’s vital for underrepresented groups to get to tell our own stories. Representation matters both onstage and off, both in who’s performing in front of the audience and directing things behind the scenes.

Because we ourselves come from marginalized groups, we know how important it is to have spaces that are truly welcoming, spaces where you’re able to belong, where your full humanity is respected and loved. Honestly, because of who we are, building an inclusive community has been easy for us.

All are welcome in our home, and we’d love to have you as part of the family.

This Friday and next Friday, join Raks Geek online and offline and become part of their community.

Please leave your thoughts below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you have direct questions, contact us via this email form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 8, 2021 at 9:01 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!

Above the Waves: Improving Student Mental Health Through Technology

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(Special thanks to Ryan Hesslau of Above the Waves for his time and insight)

Even before the current COVID-19 pandemic, high school and college students have many issues connecting with mental health services. Despite current statistics around youth and adolescent mental health issues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), and the World Health Organization (WHO),  accessing services can be a challenge due to both logistical and policy challenges. However, Above the Waves is hoping to address the issue of student mental health through technology, and we had the opportunity to speak with CEO Ryan Hesslau about the app.

Working to meet the needs of junior high, high school, and college students, Above the Waves hopes to innovate and improve on existing Offices of Student Services. The app’s overall goal is to shorten the distance between students and counselors and works to ensure safety and anonymity. Stemming from Ryan’s past work with the youth development initiative ForeverU, the Above the Waves platform has three key outcomes:

  • Equip every student with a mobile help place to find mental health and safety support
  • Boost productive and student engagement for each of our school counselors
  • Improve morale while building insight into your students.

With many schools acknowledging greater mental health and safety needs for their students, Above the Waves provides a well-needed resource. Above the Waves platform works through a mobile app that gives students streamlined access to services, bundling together school counselors, 24/7 crisis hotlines, and local mental health resources. By streamlining access and anonymity through more direct access, Above the Waves allows students to schedule sessions with their school counselor (or other professional) directly.  For many schools, the Above the Waves app can make student engagement of services much easier.

One of the challenges, however, is getting school systems to onboard all of their students around the Above the Waves app. Although schools can get a free license (and we’ll have details at the end of this post), this is a relatively new concept for schools. Although many schools either lacked a response or expressed resistance to the app “right now”, school counselors have been the greatest advocates. (Despite efforts to initiate key decision-makers, Ryan Hesslau decided to shift tactics and engage school counselors directly). With many students currently dealing with greater mental health and safety issues (such as living in an abusive or nonsupportive environment), Above the Waves can be an important tool in establishing healthier behaviors and providing well-needed services.

Many mental health and safety needs are going unnoticed; Above the Waves seeks to ensure that does not happen and improve responsiveness and access to services during the pandemic. Although schools are still deciding whether or not to reopen this fall (at the time of this writing), it is critical that schools be responsive to the growing youth mental health crisis that our world is experiencing. Those interested in learning more about Above the Waves and securing a free license to their technology for the fall semester should schedule a call with their team at

Written by gordondym

August 5, 2020 at 5:50 am

Meet Your Neighbor:

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After several months of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Chicagoans are still facing great financial stresses. Services ranging from the Chicago Public Schools’ meal program to the CTA have been shut down or closed, and many coronavirus relief funds and mutual aid resources are either empty or require updates. With many Chicago residents requiring further services, two tech professionals – a user experience designer and a software developer – built a new online resource…and it all started with a conversation over Slack.


Dawn Xiana Moon (who works as a UX designer and front-end developer) and Leah Neustadt (a software programmer) created, a peer-to-peer site where people can donate funds for other Chicago residents who require assistance. (Chicago residents who are in dire financial need can apply for up to $200 and receive the funds through PayPal, Venmo, CashApp and other services).  The site connects donors and recipients randomly and directly, so the organizers do not touch donated funds in any way. Since its launch on June 6th, has already raised almost $1000 for Chicagoans who need emergency financial assistance.

With Dawn building the website and writing copy and Leah handling backend functions, the eventual goal for the site is developing it into an application with a more robust software framework. However, arrives at a very critical time as the city begins reopening. With high unemployment numbers and dwindling and reduced resources, many Chicago residents need help now more than ever. This is an excellent opportunity for Chicago residents to jumpstart recovery as Chicago enters Phase Three of its Coronavirus Reopening Program.


Ways that you can support include both making a direct donation to (donations and distributions are run on the honor system) as well as spreading the word via social media (you can even share this post via the sharing links on top). If you have questions, you can contact via email.

As Chicago comes out of both the pandemic and recent protests, many Chicago residents need further help. If charity begins at home, here is a very necessary – and needed – first step for Chicago-area city and suburban residents to kickstart economic and social recovery for those Chicago residents who are feeling especially stressed in the aftermath.

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

And as always, thanks for reading!

Meet Your Neighbor: Illinois Legal Aid Online

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(<Special thanks to Terri Ross and Marcin Gulik of Illinois Legal Aid Online for their time and insights)

One of the consequences of COVID-19 has been an increased reliance on legal assistance around issues like unemployment, immigration, and landlord/tenant issues. Engaging the legal system can be intimidating, and language barriers can make the process even more difficult. After creating a Spanish-language version of their site, Illinois Legal Aid Online recently launched Pomoc Prawna IL, a legal information site geared for Polish-speaking individuals in Chicago. We were fortunate enough to speak to Terri Ross, ILAO’s Executive Director, and Marcin Gulik, their Digital Media Director, about the site.

Teri Ross, Executive Director, Illinois Legal Aid Online

Teri Ross, Executive Director, Illinois Legal Aid Online

Founded in 2001, Illinois Legal Aid Online provides a library of forms and resources to help people navigate the legal system and make the process less daunting. Many people rarely engage in the legal system directly for a variety of reasons. Some people may be unaware of their rights, and others may find the legal system intimidating with its own unique culture and language. ILAO handles a wide variety of legal issues, including family law, unemployment policy, divorce, landlord/tenant issues (ILAO is one of the agencies behind Rentervention), and immigration concerns. In 2012, ILAO developed a Spanish-language version of their site to better meet the needs of the Latinx community in Chicago. Polish Americans are the second largest population in the area, spread out across key Chicago neighborhoods (like Garfield Ridge and Durning) as well as major suburbs (like Naperville, Tinley Park, Oak Lawn, Schaumburg, and Desplaines). Like Spanish-speaking individuals, Polish-speaking individuals in Chicago have a unique set of specific legal issues that Pomoc Prawna works to address.

Launched in June 2019, Pomoc Prawna IL took an assertive approach in engaging the greater community to guide the site’s development. Initially starting with community interviews and observation, ILAO determined what the community needed and what specific barriers/issues Polish-speaking Chicagoans faced on a regular basis. (One great example is that initially, Polish-Americans were concerned with immigration issues, but are facing more employment-based legal issues in the wake of COVID-19).


As Pomoc Prawna IL was developed, volunteers provided testing and feedback which guided how the site was developed. Usability drives site development in terms of ease of finding information as well as the friendliness and intuitive nature of the site. Given ILAO’s extensive library of information and resources, Pomoc Prawna IL wishes to be more than just a simple translation of materials but a more organic resource for an underserved community. As part of maintaining the site, ILAO continues to solicit feedback from Polish-speaking communities throughout Illinois around the site’s usefulness and identifying service gaps.

As a third-generation Polish-American, I grew up with an awareness that there were some huge differences between me and my grandparents in terms of the larger culture. (It also helps that my father was an attorney). Although Chicago has a rich history involving its Polish community (including the Polish Military Medical Team working with the Illinois National Guard during the current COVID-19 crisis), many cultural issues around engaging legal services still exist. With Pomoc Prawna IL, Illinois Legal Aid Online has made a strong effort to address these issues, as well as provide a well-needed resource during these turbulent times.

Have comments or questions? Please leave them in the space below or join us on our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

West Monroe Partners’ 2020 Plans: A Talk With Tom Hulsebosch

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(Special Thanks to Tom Hulsebosch of West Monroe Partners for his time and insights)

Earlier this month, Tom Hulsebosch stepped into the role of Office Leader at West Monroe Partners, and the consulting firm has big plans for their Chicago office. Although the firm has been featured on this blog for its corporate social responsibility program, West Monroe Partners also seeks to make a major impact on the Chicago employment scene. With plans to double its local workforce from 800 to 1,600  by 2024, West Monroe Partners has some ambitious plans…and we spoke with Tom Hulsebosch for more details.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. As you’re stepping into your professional role and integrating West Monroe’s plans to double its workforce, what is your overall vision and approach toward your role?

There are two principles I will focus on in this new role: Continuous improvement in our people-first culture and doing engaging, high-value work for our clients. As employee-owners of West Monroe, we empower people to power growth. In fact, one of our 13 core values at the firm is “quality over growth.” We strive to care more, do more, and achieve more – for ourselves, our clients, our firm, and the communities in which we live and work. Growth is not the most important part of our strategy: In our business, the most important things are the fulfillment of our employee-owners and delivering value to our clients

West Monroe is looking to double its workforce by 2024. What is your overall strategy for making this happen, and how will you balance aggressive recruiting/hiring and maintaining employee retention?

The strategy is to hire very purposely and methodically. Each August we hire a new class of campus graduates—in 2019, we hired more than 100 new graduates in Chicago alone. For experienced hires, we find that a vast majority of people who come in to interview are “sold” on the company. So, a key part of our strategy is to get them to meet with as many people as possible and experience as much of the culture as possible. Our interviews are, at minimum half-days and for more senior positions we conduct days’ worth of discussions and interviews. During this time we give them a tour of the office, meet with people on and off their teams—getting to know the culture, the people, and the opportunities through transparent conversations,

How do you see West Monroe as an organization adapting administratively to this challenge? (Also, how do you see it impacting the organization overall?)

We made the investment in 2019 to hire a chief administrative officer in Kevin Rooney, whose primary responsibility is to make us as efficient as possible—which is incredibly important for the next stage of our growth going from 1,500 to more than 3,000 employees. We also recently hired Alberto Ruocco as our chief information officer, who will be focused on creating a digital workplace that fuels an engaging, productive work environment and employee experience. We are looking inward and finding new areas of efficiency, through redesigned processes and technology, in finance, HR, onboarding, employee learning, employee communications, IT, and more. The key here is finding ways to improve our high level of client service and continuously improving our employee experience.

Doubling a workforce while maintaining (or improving) profitability can be a challenge; how can an organization like West Monroe (or any organization) be aggressive in recruiting new talent while maintaining current profitability?

As a 100% employee-owned firm, our leadership pays very close attention to profitability—because not only does it determine viability for future growth, but it also affects every single employee’s financial well-being. So we balance hiring with many other factors, including profitability, employee experience, the ability to put someone to work right away, and others. But we don’t set hiring goals and push on without constantly reassessing the numbers and needs. If we see a slowdown in our future work, we hold back on hiring for a bit until our revenue pipeline bounces back. So we never hire people without having the true need for them.

West Monroe serves clients through nimble, multidisciplinary teams—industry experts, operational experts, and technologists. This team-based approach breeds a culture of collaboration and truly engaging work, which attracts smart, motivated people. If we stay true to this commitment, we will attract the right people that want to enhance our organization, our clients and our community. The financial metrics are not an input to our strategy, but rather a measure of its success.

Finally, what is it about Chicago that makes it ideal for West Monroe to engage such an ambitious hiring strategy?

The Chicago area has some of the best talent in technology, our core industries, and our key functional areas as well. With a robust campus recruiting program and alliances with local organizations, as well as our very dedicated talent acquisition team, we are able to hire hundreds of people every year in Chicago. It helps that we win the best place to work awards every year—that piques people’s interest. And we also find success in recruiting people back to Chicago—those who grew up here, but left for other cities, and are looking to come back to settle down or just return home.

I believe the workforce of the future that is currently at CPS and City Colleges are other resources we have in Chicago, and that we must all better utilize. We can complement our educational institutions to provide these students with professional experience and mentor support that will accelerate their entrance into tomorrow’s digital workplace. At West Monroe Partners, we are partnering with organizations such as Genesys Works, HFS Chicago Scholars, Chicago Apprenticeship Network, Springboard Foundation and so many more that are helping students across our city get the experience and mentorship they need to be prepared for a professional career. I look forward to partnering with industry leaders, educational institutions, and non-profits to create our future leaders and the future workforce of West Monroe Partners.

(Special thanks again to Tom Hulsebosch for his time and insight – please leave comments below or join us on our Facebook page. And as always, thanks for reading!) 

Written by gordondym

February 5, 2020 at 10:43 am

Help Caregivers Feel Gratitude This Thanksgiving & Holiday Season

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As National Family Caregiver Month comes to end, it is important to recognize that unpaid caregiving is becoming more of a national trend. (I should know – I have been an unpaid caregiver for my mother for several years). With Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaching, it might be a great opportunity to discuss how we can support family caregivers more effectively and help them through difficult, emotionally challenging times.

Caregiving Is Becoming More of a Destination Than A Journey – When you look at current trends in caregiving, with more men and Millennials caring for aging parents and relatives. slipping into the cliche that “Caregiving is a journey” can come across as insensitive, patronizing, and possibly out of touch. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that day-to-day caregiving provides numerous challenges to balancing life, work (including job seeking) and leisure time. It would be easy to do what an online support group leader once did, claiming that a participant needed to “believe in themselves” when dealing with numerous stresses. Caregiving is never easy, and caregivers like me find great solace when someone understands regardless of their own caregiving past. Speaking of being present for caregivers…

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Encourage Self-Care as a Discipline, Not an Indulgence – Taking a cue from a recent Forbes article, too many people – including caregivers – see self-care as an indulgence. Self-care for caregivers is not about pampering or treating themselves occasionally; it’s about developing a ritual that allows them to manage the challenges of unpaid caregiving more effectively. Exercise, diet, regular physical and mental health checks, and other behaviors can help caregivers develop skills and resilience for handling tough situations.

Offer Tangible Help When Asked – Recently, I attended a caregiver support event where a pair of siblings were looking for a great place to start…and a participant proceeded to lecture about how she “turns her problems over to the Father”. Although “thoughts and prayers” can provide some comfort (and spirituality can play some role in caregiving efforts), early-stage caregivers are at a loss to even start to find needed resources and relief. When a caregiver in your life asks for help, make it tangible and realistic. Whether it’s monetary or a moment of support, supporting friends and colleagues who are caregivers is critical to helping them find moments of quiet. And on that note…

Emphasize face time over Facebook – Caregiving can be time-consuming, and many caregivers don’t take the time to see people face to face. Although it’s easy to check-in via social media, making the effort to engage caregivers in real-time can have greater benefits. Even the act of inviting someone to an outing  – whether a high-end event or a casual conversation of coffee – can have extremely beneficial effects, even if the caregiver cannot intend. (As a caregiver, I enjoy being invited to outings as they help me feel less isolated, lonely, and overwhelmed).

Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek (Photo by Nancy Behall)

Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek
(Photo by Nancy Behall)

If you’re looking for an opportunity for face time and advocacy (as we’ll suggest in the next step), why not consider Raks Geek’s December 13th fundraiser for RIP Medical Debt. Think of it as a way to alleviate stresses for a variety of caregivers, including the one in your life)

Advocate for Caregiver-friendly Policies Although there is a curious political silence about eldercare in our country, there are several caregiver-friendly policies that require strong, consistent advocacy. Supportive services like mental health, Medicaid, and SNAP also frequently face legislative challenges, and these policies directly impact on unpaid caregivers and their elder relatives. Advocating for caregiver-friendly state and federal policies have a greater impact on the caregiving community, and these issues deserve your attention.

For many caregivers, Thanksgiving can serve as the harbinger to even tougher struggles during the holiday season. Social isolation, depression, and potential caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue can color how a caregiver perceives the holidays. Help caregivers like me feel more grateful for the holiday season…all it takes are small acts of kindness and consideration.

Thank you so much for reading; if you would like to continue the conversation, please leave your comments or questions below or join us on our Facebook page. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a great holiday!

Written by gordondym

November 25, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Raks Geek: December 13 Fundraiser for RIP Medical Debt

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Although we’ve spoken twice with Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek about immigration reform, she and the troupe are taking on another cause at their upcoming December 13th performance at the Newport Theater in Lakeview. Some of the proceeds from Raks Geek’s December 13 performance will be used to forgive medical debt through RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that relieves such debt for many people in Chicago and throughout the country.

You may wonder “geeky” belly dance, fire-spinning, and other acts pertain to medical debt. It’s not the first time the subject of medical debt was made entertaining: John Oliver focused on debt collection (and medical debt) on a past episode of his HBO show (and received a testimonial on Mashable):

Although it is tempting to dismiss John Oliver and Raks Geek’s efforts as mere entertainment, many Americans experience dire consequences as a result of medical debt. According to statistics provided by RIP Medical Debt, 66% of all bankruptcies and 25% of all credit card debt are a result of unpaid medical expenses. More than half of all Americans with medical debt have no other debts on their credit report. As health care costs rise as a result of medical debt, nearly one in three Americans are avoiding medical care (such as medication and primary care visits) due to concerns around cost. With medical debt collectors going to extreme lengths to collect (including arresting people and LinkedIn connections), efforts to alleviate medical debt can be complicated for many people to handle alone. 

Michi Trota (Photo by Stage Photographic)

Michi Trota
(Photo by Stage Photographic)

Having partnered with churches (as well as John Oliver) in the past, RIP Medical Debt purchases such debt for pennies on the dollar. Working Forgiving debt without adverse consequences to a person’s credit history, RIP Medical Debt has improved many people’s credit status and provided forward financial movement. Since “Debt never dies” in cofounder Craig Antico’s words, RIP Medical Debt provides a sorely needed service to alleviate these issues for many Americans. Raks Geek’s December 12th performance fundraiser at the Newport Theater is bringing greater attention and awareness to the issue in a way denied to certain presidential candidates.

Dawn Xiana Moon (Photo by Nancy Behall)

Dawn Xiana Moon
(Photo by Nancy Behall)

Health care reform is a complicated issue that one blog post or one performance will not solve, but Raks Geek is taking a critical step and inclusive stance towards the issue. Through December 13 show (subtitled “A Xenomorph Holiday Special”) at the Newport Theater in Lakeview, Raks Geek will be making a small but significant step in bringing awareness and attention to a complicated issue…and will entertain you while doing so.

In fact, you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive Bellydancing Wookie.

Hope to see you there!

Written by gordondym

November 19, 2019 at 10:51 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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