One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Posts Tagged ‘meet your neighbor

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!


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!

Meet Your Neighbor: Lighthouse Foundation

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(Special thanks to Karlyn Meyer for her time and insights)

In its first year of existence, the Lighthouse Foundation has driven several successful initiatives ranging from assertive advocacy to developing a mutual aid fund to benefit the black LGTBQ+ community. Recently, I spoke with Board President Karlyn Meyer (my old colleague from the Chicago Nerd Social Club) about the Foundation’s origins, its philosophy, and this Friday’s Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) online fundraiser on Facebook.

Can you provide some background on the Lighthouse Foundation?

Lighthouse Foundation (LF) grew out of a community need observed by members of a church. The organizers who have gone on to form the Foundation met through Lighthouse Church UCC, which is a predominately Black, predominately queer and LGBTQIA-affirming faith community led by LF’s Executive Director, Jamie Frazier. So one year ago, there were a number of racist incidents involving Boystown businesses, and they all came to light in relatively quick succession. This hit some major intersections for us as a church, so we did some organizing in response; but at the same time, we did a lot of listening. In the process, we learned two things. One was the sheer depth of macro- and microaggressions, threats to safety, and deep unwelcome experienced by Black queer Chicagoans in Boystown (and beyond). The other was how many people outside the church community supported our work and wanted to join us in this movement. So we launched a nonsectarian nonprofit to move our social-justice work forward.

What motivated you to get involved with the Lighthouse Foundation? What keeps you going?

I’d been a member of Lighthouse Church for almost as long as it’s been around; I love its unapologetic focus on justice and celebration of diversity. So the formation of the Lighthouse Foundation has been a clear and logical application of the values that brought us all together in the first place.

Can you provide some insight into the inner workings of the Foundation – how does it interface with the community? (Both the Lakeview/Boys Town neighborhood as well as specifically the Black LGTBQ+ community)

Lighthouse Foundation has a bifurcated structure. Part one is our caucuses: groups that represent a cross-section of identities within the Chicagoland Black LGBTQ+ community. For example, we have a trans caucus and a 50+ caucus, each led and facilitated by a member of that group. The caucuses raise issues to our leadership–they let us know what they need and what they’re interested in, and provide programming as well. The second part is our direct-action organizing arm, CARE: the Coalition of Allies for Racial Equity. CARE is open to both individuals and organizations–anyone committed to the pursuit of justice for Black LGBTQ+ people. The caucuses are more behind the scenes, with CARE doing the public work.

Our leadership consists of a nine-member strategy team that is primarily Black and queer and includes white “accomplices” (a more active term used in favor of “allies”). Our team includes organizers, clergy, and professionals of many kinds, all sharing a passion for Black queer justice, with Jamie as our Executive Director.

The Foundation has taken a very active stance in advocating for the Black LGTBQ community in Chicago, from security issues at Center on Halsted to creating a Black Queer Mutual Aid Fund in the wake of COVID-19. What are the key issues that Black LGTBQ individuals in Chicago, and what are the challenges in organizing around those issues?

With Black Chicagoans disproportionately affected by COVID-19, disproportionately serving as frontline workers, and many out of work and facing housing insecurity, an immediate need in the pandemic was for financial assistance. With our roots in the Black queer community and our familiarity with the high barrier and inaccessibility of many aid programs, we decided to create the Black Queer Mutual Aid Fund of Chicagoland. Our initial plan was to distribute $100 microgrants, but support of the fund has allowed us to increase this amount. This is completely digital, which is especially helpful because a major challenge in organizing during the pandemic is our inability to gather. We’re thankful that we’ve been able to launch this and other initiatives since going virtual, and that we’ve been able to extend our reach and participation in CARE.

Recently, the Foundation released a guide for white individuals and institutions to assertively help the Foundation. What can we do on a day-to-day basis that moves beyond simply posting hashtags and graphics? How can we make an impact on a smaller scale?

One of the items in that email is a live webinar we just hosted, called Antiracism for White Folks. You’ll find the recording on our Facebook page, and I encourage anyone who is asking this question to watch it. This webinar was run by white members of our strategy team–and I think that’s significant, for two reasons. One is that it’s important for white folks to talk to each other when it comes to the work of antiracism; that education is labor that’s often requested of people of color. But on the flip side, it’s incredibly important to defer to people of color and follow their lead when it comes to working with them for their liberation. I love that Lighthouse Foundation addresses both of these things: It provides spaces where non-Black/non-queer folks can receive that education, clarity, and instruction; and it does so under the direction and agency of Black queer people.

Another very concrete thing people can do is financially support our organization, so we can continue providing trainings like it, mutual aid, programming, and organizing wins. You can donate through the website of our fiscal sponsor, PHIMC, at

Raks Geek is holding a June 26th online fundraiser to benefit the Lighthouse Foundation. Can you describe some of your other partnerships/collaborations with community organizations?

We’re excited about Raks Geek and grateful that they are providing entertainment that can be experienced at home during the pandemic. Our other partnerships and collaborations have been rich and varied. For example, we’ve worked with public health organizations like Howard Brown for our campaigns; and we’re partnering with the Census for part of our upcoming Black Queer Pride (online) celebration over the 4th of July weekend. But another thing our partnerships look like is our organizational members within CARE. One thing I appreciate about LF is that it’s both nonsectarian and, due to its origins, works with a number of faith communities. Churches have a great deal of power that we’ve all seen used to actively harm LGBTQIA people and maintain racist structures. As progressive churches seek to redress these harms, Lighthouse Foundation serves as a partner to help them take aim at those structures where they continue to be erected; and it provides tools for individuals and nonprofits to deepen their commitment to dismantling them as well.

Finally, do you have anything to tell us that we didn’t think to ask?

We had to adjust our 2020 strategy pretty profoundly in light of the pandemic, and we’re now going strong on digital organizing, programming, and education. If you’d like to be involved with Lighthouse Foundation, your involvement can happen from your laptop, wherever you are. You can join as an individual, on behalf of your faith community, or as the representative of a nonprofit. And if that’s not for you, but you’ve still read this far, we appreciate your time and welcome your support through

Thanks for the chat, Gordon!

We would like to thank Karlyn Meyer for her time and insight, and invite you to leave your comments below or join us via Facebook page. And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 22, 2020 at 6:57 pm

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!

Meet Your Neighbor: Dawn Xiana Moon and Raks Geek

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Dawn Xiana Moon (Photo by Peter Serocki)

(Special thanks again to Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek for taking the time to talk to us!)

Last year we talked to Dawn Xiana Moon about Raks Geeks’ then-fundraiser for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Recently, however, we had a follow-up conversation with Dawn about various other topics, including Raks Geek’s upcoming Seventh Anniversary show on October 11th at the Newport Theater.

You’ve made quite an impact on the local arts community, including several nominations in a past Chicago Reader poll. How does that feel?

It’s incredible! I was stunned to be nominated in 4 different categories (Best Dancer, Best Singer-Songwriter, Best World Music Act, and Best Stage Performer) – it’s also gratifying because the nominations span both of my primary art forms: music and dance. So many people who know me as a dancer won’t realize I’ve been a professional musician for far, far longer than I’ve been a dancer, and many musicians are surprised when they find out I bellydance (and often as a Wookiee!). 

Back in August, we spoke about how your benefit for the Young Center reflected your own views about immigration reform. One year later, you’re highlighting them for your seventh-anniversary show. What do you think (if anything) has changed about conversations concerning immigration rights?

One year later, the situation for immigrants in the US has only become more dire. The US now lives with the reality of concentration camps where kids are held without access to basic necessities like toothbrushes. The cruelty is the point: It costs US taxpayers $775 per person per day to keep them in camps. They could afford toothbrushes. But CBP has even refused donations of diapers, toothbrushes, and soap from people in Texas.

I personally have a friend who was literally 5 minutes away from being sent to an immigration detention camp even though he’s a legal immigrant who came to the US as a kid, has US citizen parents, and had his full documentation on his person when he was stopped by ICE, who took him to their offices in handcuffs.

ICE’s computer records were out of date and didn’t include the last few years of his immigration records, and it was the end of the day so they couldn’t get a hold of other agencies to cross-check their records. They asked for his personal effects and planned to jail him until offices opened on Monday. He was lucky and ICE reached someone with updated records at the very last moment, and he was then allowed to leave. 

Lee Na Moo – Photo by Two Branches Photography

Your show with Raks Geek on October 11th celebrates the troupe’s seventh anniversary. Can you inform those who might not be familiar with Raks Geek about the troupe and its mission?

Raks Geek is a bellydance and fire performance company that I founded in 2012 – our dancers have appeared everywhere from Germany to Argentina, and we’ve been featured on WGN-TV, MSN, UK Channel 4 TV, and more. We’re committed to blending a high degree of artistic and technical mastery with fun, creativity, and our favorite themes from nerd culture. 

Raks Geek has a reputation for building an inclusive community both within the troupe and its audience. Can you speak to how the troupe has managed to do that despite various challenges and obstacles?

I’m a Chinese-American woman, an immigrant by way of Singapore, and Raks Geek is majority Asian-American and majority LGBTQ+. I and many others in the group think a lot about social justice and inclusion – a few of us regularly speak about these issues at universities and conferences – so we’re constantly talking about ways to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

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.

Michi Trota – Photo by Two Branches Photography

Finally, once October 11th has passed, many individuals will want to know how they can make a further impact on their community. Do you have any suggestions on how people can take action to drive inclusion in their community?

First: Listen to the underrepresented people in your community. Listen without making them cater to you. For all its issues, Twitter is actually a great place for listening in on conversations between people in marginalized groups that don’t cater to outsiders. Follow a few dozen POC in different groups, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ folks, whatever group you don’t have such candid, in-person conversations with, and a few that you think you do – your perspective will change.

Then, use your new awareness. Boost voices who have been talking about these issues for years. Don’t take over – share their (credited) work with people who used to not understand, as you once didn’t understand. Help others learn as well.

Racism doesn’t change until racially privileged people absorb the enormity and extent of racism and fight it in their own spaces. If you’re white, the good news is that because of power dynamics in this country, you have a bigger voice than POC do. Use it.

Studies show that people are far more likely to back down from racist positions if they’re called out by others of their group. Call out your friend’s microaggressions and he’ll think twice before going further.

And that makes the world a tiny bit safer for the rest of us.

(Again, we would like to thank Dawn for taking time out to talk to us. You can learn more about Raks Geek via or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Please feel free to join the further conversation via our Facebook page or contact us directly via our About page. Again, thanks for reading!) 

Written by gordondym

October 3, 2019 at 6:59 am

Meet Your Neighbor: Gery Chico & LISC Chicago

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There are many ways to impact Chicago’s neighborhoods: strategic community development initiatives, hands-on volunteer involvement, and political engagement. This month, LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) Chicago is proud to announce that former mayoral candidate Gery Chico is stepping forward to serve as Board Chair for the organization.

Partnering with other community organizations, LISC Chicago’s mission and vision focus on creating socially and economically vibrant neighborhoods with living-wage jobs, thriving local businesses, quality housing options, and reliable transportation. With its values of stewardship, relationship building, commitment, and coordinated action, LISC Chicago shares the same spirit of collaboration and community building as many of the other Chicago-based organizations featured in the past. With its focus on comprehensive community development, investing and economic development through engaging local organizations and neighborhood residentchrome_2019-06-23_11-34-22s, LISC Chicago’s impact has allowed many Chicago-area communities to be uplifted…

And Gery Chico intends to further that work as LISC Chicago’s new Board Chair.

Before running for mayor in 2019, Gery Chico served in a variety of civic roles, including

  • Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education
  • Board Chairman for City Colleges of Chicago
  • Board President of the Chicago Park District
  • President of the Chicago Board of Education
  • Chief of Staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley

Although currently working as an attorney and current partner at Chico & Nunes, P.C., Gery Chico has also lived in nine different Chicago neighborhoods and has a unique perspective on uplifting our neighborhoods.

The most exciting aspect of this news is that Gery Chico is “doubling down” on community engagement in light of the recent mayoral election. At a time when many candidates stand for office but seem to fade after the election, Gery Chico seems to have gained further enthusiasm and passion for uplifting Chicago neighborhoods. It demonstrates not only a strong commitment to his stated values as a candidate but also serves a potent reminder that fostering strong Chicago neighborhoods – and building communities – is within the grasp of any Chicago resident. As he stated upon the announcement of his Board Chairmanship:

“I understand what neighborhoods need—especially when they’re being invested in. I’m excited about what we can do at LISC to bring an even greater amount of investment to them.”

Sunset 61st and PulaskiAs LISC Chicago Board Chair, Gery Chico plans to focus on community business development, assisting communities in developing Quality-of-Life Plans (QLPs) and developing and supporting violence prevention programs focused on youth recreation. For Gery Chico, these neighborhood-based Quality-of-Life Plans are not just great co initiatives, but also serve as a key method to foster further neighborhood growth:

When I was running for mayor, I would literally wave around the Quality-of-Life Plans that LISC had done in different neighborhoods…If you look at these plans and what they call for, like public thoroughfares, what public transportation improvements should be made, what business improvements should be made—these Quality-of-Life Plans serve as a blueprint for how to bring back neighborhoods and they come direct from people that live and work in the community.”

Fostering community and economic development in Chicago’s neighborhoods is an ongoing task which cannot be performed by one solitary individual. Collaboration, communication, and commitment are required in order to handle many of the challenges our city faces. Although Gery Chico was denied one opportunity, his new role as LISC Chicago Board Chair serves as a different opportunity to make a positive impact on Chicago’s neighborhoods and foster the very values he discussed as a candidate.

Seeing a former candidate live up to their promises is very heartening; learning about an organization that fosters growth through collaboration doubly so. That quality makes both Gery Chico and LISC Chicago neighbors worth knowing.

Have a great Chicago-based neighborhood or community organization you wish to spotlight? Please comment below, let us know via our Facebook page, or email directly via this contact form. (You can learn more about me via my LinkedIn profile.
And as always, thanks for reading!

Meet Your Neighbor: Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition

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(Special thanks to Becky Raymond, Executive Director of CLCC, for her time and input)

Literacy is the most critical skill needed to navigate our ever-increasingly complicated civic, professional, and technological landscape. With many Chicago residents seeking formal assistance, the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition (or CCLC) works with Adult Education organizations in Chicago to secure resources and training so that underserved adult learners can become economically successful. My recent conversation with Becky Raymond of the CCLC demonstrated that the organizations consider adult literacy and adult education to be critical public policy issues (which parallel’s this blog’s stated belief that digital excellence is a basic human right). Plus, the CCLC is not only receiving recognition for its efforts…but is starting to get rewarded for the results of those efforts.

On Thursday, March 28th at 5:30 pm, you can witness some of those results for yourself at their Beyond Books ceremony at Newberry Library…but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

The Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition started as a grassroots effort by a variety of community-based practitioners looking for a means to socialize, collaborate, and build upon their efforts to find resources. As the Coalition grew organically, the CCLC scanned various adult literacy and education organizations to determine overlapping needs. Seeing itself as the “mortar” between the bricks of various adult literacy programs, the CCLC determined where they could make the greatest impact.

Technology was that critical area for the CCLC, focusing on both digital literacy (The Coalition also focuses on developing workforce skills through its Career Pathways initiative, and also works on healthcare literacy). Focusing on helping adult learners use computers (and increasingly, mobile devices) and using technology to help learners build basic skills, the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition uses a blended model of community-based centers using technology. Although the CCLC does use apps to assist learners in developing their skills, providing a social/interactive environment not only allows those users to thrive but provides them with the support and motivation to stay on track.

One key event happening this Thursday, March 28th at 5:30 pm emphasizes the importance of the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition’s mission. Their 4th annual Beyond Books celebration highlights the efforts of people working in the community around adult literacy and education. They will be honoring Doctor Julie Morita, Commissioner of Chicago Department of Public Health, as their Literacy Leader Award winner for her efforts around literacy and health care.

Literacy is more than just a necessary skill – it’s an essential skill. The Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition provides support for a variety of adult literacy and education efforts throughout the city. Thursday night’s event provides a concrete example of why literacy is a critical issue in Chicago…and why the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition is a neighbor worth knowing.

Have questions or comments? Please feel free to leave them below, or join us on our Facebook page for further conversation. If you wish to contact me privately, you can find a full list of contact information on our About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Meet Your Neighbor: E G Woode

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Long ago, I consulted for various neighborhood businesses and organizations which helped me indulge my two loves: local community development and repurposing old buildings. (Much of the latter stemmed from living in a rehabbed furniture warehouse in St. Louis). So when the opportunity came to learn more and write about E G Woode (a new commercial development on Chicago’s south side), I felt that this was a story worth sharing…and a neighbor to get to know.

Especially since LISC, working with of JPMorgan Chase and Fifth Third Bank through the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund and Benefit Chicago, recently closed a loan with E G Woode. Thanks to LISC’s efforts to provide local partners with capital and support for community-based projects, many organizations like E G Woode are able to better serve their communities.  

E G Woode is a unique business-real estate co-op model providing needed resources and services (like marketing) to minority entrepreneurs who may not traditionally have access. Located at 63rd and May, E G Woode provides small and expanding businesses an opportunity to leverage resources and foster growth while rebuilding both a commercial corridor and repurposing a formerly vacant building. (Travel further east on 63rd into the Woodlawn neighborhood, and you’re near similar initiatives like Greenline Coffee, Sunshine Enterprises, and University Cowork).

And it all sprung from the mind of a person who wanted to provide opportunities for his fellow community residents.

Dean Lucas

Dean Lucas

Growing up in East Garfield Park and North Lawndale, Dean Lucas has a strong interest in architecture since he was 16. As a high school student, Lucas won the Newhouse Architecture Competition and interned at Smith & Smith Associates. As a volunteer for Teamwork Englewood, Lucas met and conversed with a variety of entrepreneurs who were eager to engage the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and Retail Thrive Zones. However, many of those entrepreneurs believed that they were unable to fully participate on their own. Seeing a unique opportunity, Dean Lucas had a creative solution that would allow for smart business growth…

Rather than compete for these funds, why not collaborate and build on each other’s skills?

With that in mind, Dean Lucas formed a collaborative with other business owners to assist each other in applying for these grants. When all of the businesses within the collaborative were awarded funds, Lucas believed that this approach could benefit a wider range of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Three businesses (Powell’s Barber Shop, Marie Wesley Consignment, and Beehyyve Design Studio) occupy 3,900 square feet with the main building, which is available for community use (including private events) in the off-hours. Tenants and entrepreneurs who are part of E.G. Woode collective own  51% yet retain 100% ownership of their businesses. (Members of the collective also share the cost of marketing, accounting, and other business resources).

With a greater shift towards fostering the growth of small businesses and social enterprises in the Chicago area, E G Woode takes a creative approach to foster neighborhood business growth. Collaboration and communication effectively foster strong community advocacy efforts, so taking a similar approach to foster neighborhood-based entrepreneurship should not be that surprising. With a unique approach and philosophy, E G Woode is one collective that hopes to drive small neighborhood-based businesses and mobilize other like-minded organizations.

And E G Woode is one neighbor worth knowing.

Please feel free to comment below, or join the conversation via our Facebook page. If you wish to contact me directly, please use this e-mail form.

As always, thanks for reading!

Meet Your Neighbor: Footprints to Recovery

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(Special thanks to Dr. Caitlin Simpson for her time and insights)

Long before I blogged for Chicago Now, I trained to be a substance abuse counselor. Although I shifted focus in my professional career, I still have a casual interest in the field, especially tobacco prevention. So I took the opportunity to speak with Dr. Caitlin Simpson of Footprints to Recovery, a treatment center with facilities in Arlington Heights, to learn about modern approaches to addiction and recovery…and to indulge my professional and personal curiosity.

Founded in 2013, Footprints to Recovery began with a simple mission: to help a loved one deal with the problems of addiction. However, finding the right treatment facility was difficult, with low access and concerns about the quality of treatment. So Footprints to Recovery was created with a mission to provide good, high quality, progressive, evidence-based treatment for those wishing to cover addition. Although a for-profit entity, Footprints to Recovery regularly scholarships to provide addiction treatment for those who cannot normally afford it.

The overall goal of Footprints to Recovery is simple: provide help to as many people as possible. With addiction issues throughout the state (Chicago data can be found in this downloadable PDF), Footprints to Recovery is a great addition to our currently available resources.

Dr. Caitlin Simpson of Footprints to Recovery

Dr. Caitlin Simpson of Footprints to Recovery

Taking a client-centered approach, Footprints to Recovery ensures that every client receives the highest possible quality of care starting with the initial call. The intake process involves assessing physical and mental health, current stressors, and other factors that can enhance or impede recovery. Footprints to Recovery adopts the philosophy that addiction is a symptom of greater, more underlying issues, and addressing those issues can assist the person in their overall recovery. (Although slightly differing from the traditional disease model of addiction, Footprints to Recovery’s approach integrates a more holistic view of addiction and its impact on daily living).

Part of the client-centered approach that Footprints to Recovery takes includes focusing on the totality of the client’s experience and encompassing their needs. With flexibility in scheduling (dependent on treatment level), clients receive a wide range of services that assist them in developing overall wellness. (This not only includes helping clients manage their emotions. Services for clients at Footprints to Recovery include expressive-based therapies (like cognitive-behavioral therapy and DVT), trauma recovery programs (according to Dr. Simpson, 90% of their clients have experienced trauma in their lifetime) as well as yoga, tai-chi, and nutrition. Aftercare from Footprints to Recovery includes an alumni program (for further support) and other services.

But Footprints to Recovery also believes that addiction has an impact on the family. Not only does Footprints to Recovery have a family day for their clients, but they also sponsor a Smart Recovery Friends and Family Group (open to the community) on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm. Family members can be affected by a loved one’s alcohol or drug use, but there are various resources throughout the Chicago area, including

Dealing with addiction can be extremely isolating…both for the user and their loved ones. Footprints to Recovery is a well-needed resource that is dealing with a critical concern. They’re a great addition to our local community…and a great neighbor to know.

Have questions or comments? Please leave them below, join the conversation on our Facebook page, or use this contact page to e-mail me directly.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

October 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm