At inaugural South Side Strong Summit, UChicago’s Community Programs Accelerator helps nonprofits forge connections, sharpen skills, and deepen impact

south side strong summit

More than 30 Nonprofits Welcomed into Accelerator’s 2022 Cohort with Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and Ladies of Virtue Each Receiving $50,000 

On May 18, UChicago’s inaugural South Side Strong Summit, hosted by the University’s Community Programs Accelerator within the Office of Civic Engagement, brought together 125 local stakeholders representing 70 unique organizations for a full day of free programming that included keynote addresses and fireside chats, hands-on workshops with industry experts, a networking luncheon and reception, a recognition ceremony for participants in the Accelerator’s capacity-building programs, a local dance troupe performance, and more.

South Side nonprofit leaders joined University representatives to connect and collaborate; share sector insights and challenges; and ultimately deepen the positive impact their organizations have in their communities.

The conference marked a new phase of growth for the Accelerator program, which works to equip both established and emerging community-based nonprofits and leaders with tools and resources to fulfill their unique missions. Since its launch in 2014, the program has helped develop and strengthen the capacity of more than 175 community-focused nonprofit organizations that are based in or serve the University’s nine neighborhood focus area on the South Side which includes Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn. 

South Side Strong Summit
South Side Strong Summit

The event welcomed 32 South Side nonprofit organizations into the Accelerator’s 2022 cohort, 15 of which were new to the program or changing programmatic levels. Nine nonprofit professionals who have completed the Certificate in Nonprofit Management program, a joint initiative of the Office of Civic Engagement and the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, were also awarded their certificates during the Summit.

Jamila Trimuel, founder of the Woodlawn-based girls mentoring nonprofit Ladies of Virtue, spoke at the conference of all she and her organization have been able to accomplish since they started working with the Accelerator in 2017. During that time, Accelerator staff and UChicago graduate students helped lead a strategic planning process across all levels of the organization and Accelerator consulting partner Perry Gunn helped develop a full fundraising plan. 

“Because of the partnership with the Accelerator, we are poised to accomplish every single goal in our strategic plan—this means to become a million-dollar nonprofit organization, to serve more girls, to hire even more full-time staff, and ultimately achieve our vision of becoming the leading mentoring and leadership development program for Black girls here in the Chicagoland area,” Trimuel said. 

Ladies of Virtue was one of two new organizations selected this year to receive the Accelerator’s highest level of support. With that help, the organization plans to strengthen organizational infrastructure; hire fulltime staff; and otherwise ensure that participating girls and mentors have a consistent, positive experience.

Core level organizations like Ladies of Virtue receive $50,000 in funding along with intense, focused, and customized support for up to three years. Deeply Rooted Dance Theater—which serves Grand Boulevard, Bronzeville, Hyde Park, South Shore, and other South Side communities—was the other organization selected for this year’s Core level.

Starting in 2019, Deeply Rooted participated in the Accelerator at the Associates level. The Accelerator has provided support for key developments within the organization including supporting the hiring of its first executive partner, redefining the structure of the artistic team which contributed to a dynamic succession plan, as well as hiring and onboarding processes for new staff.

“This is a really critical two years for Deeply Rooted. If all goes well, we will be having the grand opening for our South Side Center for Black Dance and Creative Communities in the spring of 2024,” Deeply Rooted Creative Director Kevin Iega Jeff said. “And to have somebody holding our hand through the constructing of the building and the visioning of its operations and the understanding and dissecting of plans to raise funds to have it flourish into the future—man, it’s the best thing in the world to know we’ve got this partnership.”

Karen Freeman-Wilson, President and CEO of The Chicago Urban League
Karen Freeman-Wilson, President and CEO of The Chicago Urban League

Associates level organizations receive individualized organizational and technical support from consultants and Accelerator staff-supervised University graduate students over the course of a year.  Organizations joining the Accelerator’s 2022 cohort at the Associates level include:

  • Praize Productions, Inc. (based in Grand Boulevard)
  • Southside Blooms (based in Washington Park)
  • New Community Outreach (based in Grand Boulevard)
  • Music Box Foundation (based in Woodlawn)
  • The Simple Good (serves Hyde Park and Kenwood)
  • Plan4Success (based in Hyde Park)

The Accelerator will additionally support 22 organizations designated as Special Projects in 2022. These groups will receive discrete technical assistance from staff and students to address specific issues or projects over the course of three to six months.

In breakout sessions throughout the Summit, participants had a chance to learn from and connect with faculty partners from the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation; the Crown Family School; the Harris School; the Logan Center for the Arts, and other Accelerator-affiliated experts and dig deeper into topics such as creating a strong nonprofit brand, building effective board engagement, and scaling organizational impact. Prospective Accelerator organizations were offered a dedicated track with sessions such as Grant Writing 101.

One morning workshop led by Harris School Writing Center Director David Chrisinger focused on how nonprofits can more effectively tell their story to donors and advocates. Nickie Brookens, who leads Hyde Park-serving organization Plan4Success, said she was drawn to the session because of how pivotal expressing her own experiences has been in her work. Plan4Success provides educational and practical life skill experiences for Chicagoland young adults and is currently receiving support at the Accelerator’s Associates level. Brookens is additionally participating in the Certificate in Nonprofit Management program. 

“[The Accelerator’s programs have] really given me what I think I was missing as a leader so it’s building that foundation and the sky is the limit,” Brookens said. “Just being able to see new friends, old friends, and all the organizations doing such great work today? It’s inspiring and it gives you hope to keep going. Collective impact is what we need to move forward.”

South Side Strong Summit
South Side Strong Summit

The Accelerator team decided to call the conference South Side Strong, Accelerator Executive Director Sharon Grant said, not only because of everything local nonprofits and the communities they serve have had to face throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because of the power of collaboration and the strength that comes from leveraging the University’s resources and overcoming challenges together.

“There’s an African proverb I love and I thought it was just so important today that says if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together and I think that’s exactly what this Summit is doing,” Grant said. “It’s saying we know it’s measured steps, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but we are in this together. We are strong because I’m leaning on you and you’re leaning on me and we’re uplifting each other.”

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