Susan Crown Exchange Announces 2019 Catalyst Grants

Through our Catalyst program, we select a small group of organizations from across the country who pursue innovative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. We send each of these organizations an unexpected gift to support – and validate – their impressive work. 

Inspired by the perseverance and creativity we see in the nonprofit community across the country, this year we offered more Catalyst grants than we ever have before. Working on issues ranging from environmental activism to immigration to local journalism, these 27 organizations are catalysts for social progress.

  • Arts and Culture: The Ellis Marsalis Center
  • Community and Economic Development: The Sweet Water Foundation
  • Education: Global Citizen Year, Higher Achievement, LaundryCares, Ryan Banks Academy
  • Environment: California Wildfire Relief Fund, Project Drawdown, SustainUS, The Wetlands Initiative
  • Health and Human Services: Deborah’s Place, Honor Flight, Musicians on Call, New Moms
  • Immigration: Apna Ghar, The Florence Project, Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
  • Journalism and Civic Engagement: The American Journalism Project, Grist Media, Report for America
  • Social Justice: BUILD Chicago, The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Equal Justice Initiative, Just Beginning, Pride ROC
  • Youth Development: 826CHI, Blue Sky Bakery

Congratulations to our 2019 Catalyst grantees! Read on to learn more about each of these inspiring organizations.


The Ellis Marsalis Center: The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music at Musician’s Village is a 17,000 square foot facility that serves as a performance, education and community venue. The Center includes a 170-seat performance hall, recording studios, teaching facilities, and a gathering place for the community. With severe budget cuts in New Orleans schools, many of the young people in the city’s poorer communities are unable to access music education. The Center provides a place where underserved youth can develop musically, academically, and socially.


The Sweet Water Foundation: The Sweet Water Foundation utilizes a blend of urban agriculture, art, and education to transform vacant spaces and abandoned buildings into productive and sustainable community assets that produce engaged youth, skilled workers, art, locally-grown food, and affordable housing. Sweet Water Foundation’s biggest projects have included: The Commons, a four-block urban farm and community arts center in Englewood and Washington Park; Sweet Water Academy, which focuses on urban ecology; and Marketplace, a social enterprise incubator.


Global Citizen Year: The year between high school and college is the most critical developmental moment in a young person’s life. This transition – when done by design and not by default – can become a transformation. By going deeper than typical study abroad or travel programs, Global Citizen Year Fellows learn to speak to their hosts in their own language and to see the world through new eyes. They gain the experience they need to solve real problems, the perspective they need to see new opportunities, and the network they need to make change happen.

Higher Achievement: Higher Achievement closes the opportunity gap during the pivotal middle school years. By leveraging the power of communities, Higher Achievement’s proven model provides a rigorous year-round learning environment, caring role models, and a culture of high expectations, resulting in college-bound scholars with the character, confidence, and skills to succeed. Higher Achievement has served more than 10,000 youth through afterschool and summer programs and high school placement support. Ninety-five percent of scholars graduate high school on-time and college-ready.

The LaundryCares Foundation: The LaundryCares Foundation provides literacy resources to families by making the local laundromat a center for learning and engagement. They team up with organizations such as Too Small to Fail to deliver educational programs promoting children’s literacy and family interactions at the laundromat. Donations to the LaundryCares Foundation help deliver Free Laundry Day events, provide laundry during periods of disaster relief, and give literacy resources to families while they’re at the laundromat.

Ryan Banks Academy: The Ryan Banks Academy is Chicago’s first tuition-free urban boarding school. Focusing on grades 7-12, they prepare motivated students from Chicago neighborhoods to graduate from college, enter meaningful careers, and change their communities. Viewing exceptional education as an investment in the future, Ryan Banks Academy’s model leverages personalized learning, digital learning, and extracurricular courses. 


The California Wildfire Relief Fund: The California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund supports immediate, mid- and long-term recovery efforts for major California wildfires, as well as support for animals affected by wildfires. Since the Wildfire Relief Fund opened in 2003, they have granted more than $22 million to support relief and recovery efforts in the aftermath of devastating California wildfires. Grants from the Wildfire Relief Fund have supported those who were displaced or who lost housing, helped to rebuild homes, provided basic needs assistance, and offered financial support.

Project Drawdown: Project Drawdown is a world-class research organization that reviews, analyses, and identifies the most viable global climate solutions and shares these findings with the world. They partner with communities, policy-makers, non-profits, businesses, investors, and philanthropists to identify and deploy science-based, effective climate solutions — as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. All donations support the research and dissemination of these solutions.

SustainUS: SustainUS is a youth-led organization advancing justice and sustainability by empowering young people to engage in advocacy at the domestic and international levels. Young people have more to lose than any other generation, but they are not at the decision-making table for environmental issues. They send youth delegations to climate talks and train youth leaders in media, action, and community organizing. 

The Wetlands Initiative: Over 90% of Illinois’ natural wetlands are now drained, tiled, dammed, or leveed. Wetlands remove pollutants to provide cleaner water. They offer food and shelter to a vast array of plants and animals. They store floodwaters, reducing the cost and misery caused by flooding. They moderate climate change by sequestering carbon. The Wetlands Initiative restores the wetland resources of the Midwest, ensuring that they can improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and reduce flood damage. 


Deborah’s Place: Since 1985, Deborah’s Place has provided compassionate care to women experiencing homelessness in Chicago. From humble beginnings as a volunteer-run program in a church gym, Deborah’s Place grew first to transitional housing and then to permanent supportive housing. Over time, they developed wrap-around services to complement their housing programs – services including job readiness training, tutoring and education assistance, health services, case management, and counseling. Deborah’s Place has helped over 4,000 women move from homeless to housed, and from simply surviving to truly living.

Honor Flight: The mission of Honor Flight is to transport America’s veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials dedicated to honoring those who have served and sacrificed for our country. Participation in an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the opportunity to share this momentous occasion with other comrades, to remember friends and comrades lost, and share their stories and experiences with other veterans. Through 140 regional hubs, Honor Flight has escorted over 200,000 veterans to Washington, D.C. and currently has a waiting list of 35,487.

Musicians on Call: Musicians on Call believes that all patients, families and caregivers should have access to and benefit from the healing power of live music. At each Bedside Performance Program, a Volunteer Musician is escorted from room to room to perform at the bedsides of patients. These interactions between musician and patient have the powerful effect of restoring the happiness that often fades away in long-term hospital stays. Volunteer musicians visited over 73,000 patients, staff, and family members in 2018.

New Moms: New Moms’ supportive housing portfolio offers 58 units of transitional housing in Chicago and Oak Park for young mothers and kids that are experiencing poverty. They also offer a 16-week paid job training program for new mothers that blends classroom and hands-on job experience through their social enterprise candle company, Bright Endeavors. Lastly, it offers family support services for young mothers. New Moms was awarded the Atlantic’s Renewal Award for local groups that support individuals and families who are economically vulnerable and socially isolated.


Apna Ghar: Apna Ghar provides comprehensive and holistic services to survivors as they begin their journeys of healing and empowerment. They also conduct community education and address systemic barriers that immigrant survivors face. Apna Ghar’s services include legal advocacy, supervised visitation, counseling, case management, emergency shelter, transitional housing, and outreach and education. Last year, these direct services impacted approximately 8,000 people in the Chicago area.

The Florence Project: On any given day, 5,000 people are detained in Arizona. Detained immigrants facing deportation in the U.S. do not have the right to a public defender. Without representation, many will lose their case and get sent back to the conditions they are fleeing. To some, this is a death sentence. The Florence Project strives to address this inequity through direct service, partnerships with immigrant communities, and advocacy and outreach efforts.

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights: The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights seeks to provide immigrant children who arrive unaccompanied in the United States from around the world with child advocates that will champion their rights and best interests throughout the deportation process. Advocates visit the child they’re paired with weekly and accompany them to any court hearings or other immigration meetings. Donations to the organization help provide every child with an advocate.


The American Journalism Project: The economics that supported the news industry for most of the twentieth century are no longer viable. As a result, the civic function that news provides is under threat. To combat this, the American Journalism Project is raising $50 million for their initial fund to support 25-35 civic news organizations across the U.S. — organizations at various stages of development — that can serve as exemplars for a new generation of local news outlets.

Grist Media: Grist’s independent, nonprofit newsroom pursues in-depth stories on under-covered topics like clean energy, sustainable food, livable cities, environmental justice, and a better economy. They elevate solutions, expose inequity, and give readers the context, knowledge, and tools to make a difference. Donations help keep their journalism paywall- and subscription-free.

Report for America: Local news coverage has been decimated. Residents no longer get the information they need to understand the critical issues facing their community, to make good decisions for their family, and hold elected officials accountable. Report for America calls an emerging generation of journalists to service and sends them to report in under-covered corners of America. Currently, the program is supporting 60 talented journalists in 50 local newsrooms.


BUILD Chicago: BUILD is a nationally respected gang intervention, violence prevention, and youth development organization based on Chicago’s West Side. Since 1969, BUILD has helped thousands of at-risk youth escape gangs and violence to become positive leaders of their communities. They mentor young people who face steep obstacles to success, reaching 3,500 youth a year in Austin, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Hermosa, Logan Square, and Fuller Park. Donations provide mentors and life-changing experiences for those youth.

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights: The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights roots out and dismantles deeply entrenched systems of discrimination, racism, and economic oppression by using the power of the law to give voice to those most impacted by these civil rights issues. They provide free legal services to nonprofit organizations and social enterprises working to improve low-income communities. They also promote racial equity in education, housing, policing, and voting rights. 

Equal Justice Initiative: Founded by Bryan Stevenson, author of the memoir Just Mercy, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. In addition to its nationwide reform work, EJI runs the Legacy Center, a museum dedicated to the legacy of slavery in the United States, and the National Lynching Memorial. 

Just Beginning: Just Beginning is a parenting program that connects youth in the juvenile justice system with their children. Through parenting instruction, structured weekly visits, and post-release support, our program enables incarcerated teen parents to maintain contact and build a strong bond with their child – providing benefits for the child, parent, and society as a whole. Donations support the following services to incarcerated teen parents: parenting instruction for teenagers, weekly structured visits in child-friendly environments, and building support systems.

Pride ROC Chicago: Pride ROC was founded in direct response to the violence, poverty, and despair that transform some of the city’s communities into war zones.  Many of those stuck in the middle of this vicious cycle are looking for peace, but don’t have a pathway to safety. Pride ROC removes participants from violent environments, offers them an eight-day “passage” experience, and provides a case manager and weekly meetings once participants return home. 


826CHI: 826CHI is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Their programs focus on children from low-income families, who are English-language learners, or who attend under-resourced schools. Their programs connect students to caring volunteers throughout the school day, after school, on the weekends, and in the summer. 

Blue Sky Bakery: Blue Sky does more than create sweet and savory pastries from fresh, high-quality ingredients. As a nonprofit organization, they also provide transitional employment to homeless and at-risk youth. The Blue Sky Employment Program provides homeless and at-risk youth with twelve weeks of paid, supportive employment at Blue Sky Bakery & Café. When young people successfully complete the program at the bakery, the program works with them to secure stable, long-term employment.