When a funder emailed Michelle Rashad about UChicago’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management program last fall, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
In the fall of 2018, neighborhood nonprofit Imagine Englewood if (IEi) was in a funding crunch, had to relocate, and all staff were laid off. Rashad took over as executive director, and she was looking to rebuild. “I was a staff of one for months,” Rashad says, “and the certificate program gave me the hope I needed that we could build back up.” Since 1997, IEi has worked to strengthen the community by teaching healthy living, environmental awareness, and positive communication skills to youth and families in Englewood.
The certificate program, launched in 2019 by the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) and the Office of Civic Engagement’s Community Programs Accelerator, supports nonprofit professionals in their work to build a stronger South Side. Rashad grew up in Englewood and participated in IEi programs as a teen, and she was selected to serve as executive director at 25 years old. “Being a young executive director, I needed that practical knowledge and mentoring to move IEi forward,” Rashad says.
In workshops and a core course taught by consultants, practitioners, and SSA faculty, program participants get practical advice for operating sustainable, effective community-based organizations. “I finally feel like I have the support I need and the people who can teach me what I need to know to transform this organization,” Rashad says. After completing the first year of the two-year program, she reports that she has used what she’s learned to better define her role as executive director; evaluate and restructure programming to focus IEi’s mission; and continue work with the board as it helps with strategic planning. She has also strengthened relationships with funders, and now has a staff of five.
“Thanks to this program, I feel more confident and stronger, with more direction on what I should focus on as executive director. It gave me strength and hope at a time when the organization was in a bad spot — and we are now in a better spot!”
Becoming part of the UChicago family has helped IEi in other ways, too. Rashad and her team received a grant from the Partnering for Community Impact initiative to support South Side nonprofits during the COVID-19 crisis, enabling IEi to create “Imagination Boxes” — plastic totes delivered to children’s homes containing fun, educational activities for families to do together — and plan a safely distanced summer camp for 25 neighborhood youth.
Rashad’s next step, she says, is to use the tools she’s gained in the certificate program to engage IEi’s board in fundraising and planning for her vision to build a community center that will provide a permanent home for IEi and its programming. “IEi has been in survival mode for a long time,” she says. “We’ve done some amazing things, but now we’re truly ready to start thinking for the long term about the impact this organization can have on the lives of so many.”