When it comes to finding housing for people experiencing homelessness, the team at Featherfist firmly believes that shelter is not enough: Case managers work intensively with clients to connect them with the supportive services they need to remain in stable housing, including help dealing with physical and mental health issues, unemployment, substance use, and more. And once the Featherfist team has helped clients settle into safe, secure, affordable housing, they remain connected as long as the family needs support.
Since Executive Director Melanie Anewishki founded the South Shore–based agency in 1984 after getting to know people in her neighborhood who needed housing, Featherfist has grown into the South Side’s largest agency dedicated to eliminating homelessness. The organization continues to play a major role in Chicago's annual Point-in-Time Homeless Count. And since 2014, Featherfist has had support from the Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago, which connects nonprofits with University resources that help them strengthen their impact on the communities they serve. The Accelerator has supported nearly 200 local nonprofits with consulting help from students guided by professionals and University faculty.
During its first year in the Accelerator, the Featherfist team received support that helped them craft a new five-year strategic plan, update marketing communications, and improve fundraising strategies — “especially in showing us how we could present our data to better tell our story to funders,” Anewishki says. More recently, a team of professional consultants, working through the Accelerator with the help of a student project manager, has been helping Anewishki and her team build capacity through leadership skills development, and update that first strategic plan. “Our first plan covered five years; this one is for three years. Things are changing so swiftly — we’re dancing as fast as we can,” Anewishki says.