During a standing-room only ceremony on Feb. 23, the Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago announced the seven nonprofit organizations selected to join its core and associates programs in 2018. The groups, which all serve South Side communities, will benefit from an array of University resources to strengthen their social impact on communities. The accelerator also introduced a new cohort of 10 arts and cultural organizations that will cross-collaborate to enhance their capacity to address intersecting challenges.
“The accelerator gives emerging nonprofit leaders the support they need to advance new solutions to the problems facing South Side communities,” said Ryan K. Priester, Director of Community Programs for the University’s Office of Civic Engagement. “We support their organizations by bringing additional intellectual capital, best practices, and business acumen to the table. We aim to strengthen local neighborhoods by investing in the infrastructure of individual organizations and building a network of community-based nonprofits determined to make real and lasting impact on their communities.”
Four community-based organizations were selected for the core program which provides customized, ongoing support, and collaboration with University of Chicago faculty and students, and may include funding. They are Featherfist, whose mission is to eliminate homelessness; Alternatives, a youth-focused program addressing substance abuse; AeroStar Avion Institute, an Aviation STEAM enrichment for youth in grades kindergarten through 12; and Future Ties, a support services program providing mentoring, life skills training and recreational activities for families in Parkway Gardens. Alternatives and AeroStar are new to the accelerator, while Featherfist was in the associates program, and Future Ties received support in the Special Projects program for the past year.
“The accelerator has already assisted us with creating a fantastic strategic plan that we are able to send out to our funders, “said Melanie Anewishki, founder and executive director of Featherfist, located in the South Shore community. Going forward, Anewishki is looking to the accelerator program to guide the nonprofit with the development of marketing and fundraising plans to better communicate with people who are homeless through technology such as providing them with emails and cell phones.
In the associates program, organizations receive capacity-building support from accelerator staff and students who serve as project managers over the course of the year, Priester explained. The organizations invited to participate this year are Chasing 23, which provides youth ages 15 to 21 with life and jobs skills training; Pilot Light, whose mission is to improve nutrition education for school-aged children; Chicago Hyde Park Village, which seeks to support seniors aging in place; Strive Tutoring, which provides academic support to community youth; Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors, which seeks to preserve affordable housing access to housing resources in Woodlawn; and South Shore Works, a consortium of individuals and organizations committed to revitalizing the South Shore community. Chasing 23, Strive, and South Shore Works are new to the accelerator.
Introducing a New Cohort Model
Also new this year is the introduction of the Arts Corhort, which will support 10 organizations. The ultimate goal of implementing this cohort model is to create support networks across organizations, and at the same time enhance the internal capacity of arts organizations to improve and expand the services they provide. The 10 organizations selected for the initial cohort represent a diverse set of organizations across a range of arts disciplines and presently serve a combined total of 14,000 individuals on Chicago’s mid-South Side.
“The accelerator is growing in response to the increased requests from our community for service and support,” said Derek Douglas, UChicago’s Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs. “There’s recognition that we’re having a tangible, positive impact and the momentum continues to build.”
Established four years ago to support the growth and development of South Side community-based organizations, which are essential to a robust civic infrastructure, the accelerator has supported 24 nonprofits through its core and associates programs, and 32 with special projects. Approximately 1,300 people representing 200 nonprofits have attended accelerator workshops, and University of Chicago students have provided more than 50,000 hours of skills-based engagement with organizations in the Associates and Special Projects programs. This year, the Community Programs Accelerator received 78 applicants, the highest ever -- an indication of growing interest in tapping the program’s robust UChicago resources.
Cycling out of the core accelerator program this year are the eta Creative Arts Foundation and CoderSpace. Founded by Demond Drummond in 2014, CoderSpace was one of the first four organizations in the accelerator. Drummond sought assistance on developing a sustainable business model and resource stream, vetting a curriculum and metrics, and filing for incorporation. Four years later, CoderSpace has completed incorporation, offered three successful summers of programming, and launched a school year programming inside Chicago Public Schools.
Eta Creative Arts Foundation, a fixture on the South Side for nearly 50 years, joined the accelerator in 2016, seeking support on a range of organizational needs, from grant writing and finance, to volunteer management and community relations. Over the last two years, eta has raised $180,000, benefitted from legal assistance on compliance and board policies, and made great progress toward a new online presence.
“Accountability in governance, operations and reporting are essential to eta’s success,” said Artistic Director Kemati Porter. “The accelerator was a valuable partner to lay the ground work for our next 45 years.”
By Tracey Robinson-English & Kim Grimshaw Bolton
Photos by Jean Lachat