Deborah’s Place: Confronting Homelessness Across Chicago

COVID-19 affects everyone—but it doesn’t affect everyone equally. People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to the pandemic’s consequences. In the midst of this crisis, Deborah’s Place continues to offer women* experiencing homelessness the stable housing, wraparound services, and opportunities they need to move forward.

When Gloria stepped through the doors of Deborah’s Place, a homeless-serving organization in Chicago, she was out of options. She had been living in the park for a long time. She struggled with substance abuse. And she didn’t have friends or family that could take her in.

According to Michelle Patterson, Development Director for Deborah’s Place, the isolation Gloria felt is commonplace for people experiencing homelessness. “We are committed to creating a supportive community for our residents,” says Patterson. “We want to create a sense of belonging where they don’t feel so isolated. We want them to know that people care about them.”

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, over 80,000 Chicagoans experienced homelessness in 2016. From the perspective of those with steady housing, much of this is invisible; 80 percent of those people were living “doubled-up,” in the houses of friends and family. The remaining 20 percent are people like Gloria: people who live on the streets because they have nowhere else to go.

Women experiencing homelessness face additional challenges. Basic hygiene is one of them, with bathrooms and menstrual products hard to come by. Violence is another: compared to men, women experiencing homelessness are vulnerable to physical and sexual assault. Even when they get to shelters, women still can feel unsafe—making it more difficult for them to recover from trauma and move forward.

For thirty-five years, Deborah’s Place has opened doors of opportunity to women experiencing homelessness. Their housing-first approach, wraparound services, and caring community has helped thousands of women in Chicago move from homelessness to housed and from surviving to living.

SCE’s Catalyst Grants address society’s most pressing issues by supporting organizations that approach them in innovative and promising ways. We were proud to support the exemplary work of Deborah’s Place with a Catalyst Grant.

A key differentiator for Deborah’s Place is their focus on permanent, supportive housing. Instead of operating as a drop-in shelter, the organization places participants in permanent housing units. While some of these are their residential buildings in Old Town and East Garfield Park, many are individual units in Chicago communities. Deborah’s Place doesn’t restrict how long a resident can stay in one of their units; they’d rather participants remain permanently than leave before they’re truly ready.

When Gloria came to Deborah’s Place over 20 years ago, she started in the original emergency shelter, which is no longer in operation. She participated in the daytime program as well, and when a space opened up in the newly renovated residential building in East Garfield Park, Gloria was one of the first residents. “We combine a housing-first approach and a harm reduction principle,” says Patterson. “We don’t prescribe or mandate any services; our residents set their own goals and determine their own paths.”

For Gloria, that path lasted many years. Even after getting permanent housing, she continued to struggle with substance abuse. During a medical checkup, her doctor told her she was going to die if she kept living that way. All of a sudden, something clicked and Gloria knew she needed to change.

With help from Deborah’s Place, Gloria sought out treatment. Today, she still regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; she’s a leader in her group and has sponsored several others. She pursued a certificate in phlebotomy, then got a job. She started a nonprofit with friends to help other people struggling with homelessness and poverty. Now, she’s looking for an apartment outside of Deborah’s Place, so she can free up her unit for another woman who needs it.

Patterson says, “We don’t just provide housing. We make investments in the women we serve. Just like a financial investment, those investments can take a long time. But they’re worth it.”

Society’s poorest people remain vulnerable to homelessness. The gap between wages and rents continues to grow. Housing vouchers, mental health services, and healthcare are still inaccessible for many. Institutional racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT discrimination cause minorities to suffer more. Together, these factors make chronic homelessness one of the greatest challenges our society must address.

COVID-19 makes this challenge thornier still. In homeless shelters, social distancing can be nearly impossible—and the outbreak of the disease in shelters is well-documented. Furthermore, rising unemployment—especially in low-income communities of color—could lead to a rise in homelessness in Chicago and across the country.

In this context, the work of Deborah’s Place becomes more critical still. They’ve shifted the focus of some of their programs in order to meet the needs of their residents. “A major need is food and supplies,” says Patterson. “We’ve maintained food pantries in our buildings meant to supplement regular trips to the store. Now, demand is way up. Our staff members are going on grocery runs for residents who can’t do so themselves.”

For organizations like Deborah’s Place, donations remain critical. “We’ve been using the funds we’ve received for COVID relief to purchase food and necessities,” continues Patterson. “Our front-line staff is essential to keeping our buildings running and making sure every resident is managing this crisis and has the support they need. In addition to supporting our residents, we have to make sure we can support our essential workers who keep us going.”

When asked how individuals can support people experiencing homelessness at this time, Patterson offers three suggestions: “Individual donations offer nonprofits unrestricted support that they really need. Donating food, cleaning supplies, and other basic necessities saves us and our residents a trip to the store. And right now is a great time for people to be advocates—contacting their local government officials to ensure that money for the COVID crisis is going to the most vulnerable people.”

*Deborah’s Place is committed to serving both cisgender and transgender women. Cisgender women are women whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth; transgender women are women whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Report for America: Strengthening Local News in the Era of COVID-19

In the era of COVID-19, local news coverage is more important than ever. Report for America is making that coverage possible.

Across the nation, millions of young students are switching to online learning in response to COVID-19 related school closures. In Utah’s Navajo Nation, that transition is anything but easy. In this arid, rural landscape, internet signals are spotty—if they exist at all. Because of this, a community that has suffered from decades of government neglect risks falling even further behind.

If this crisis had happened five years ago, we might not be hearing this story. Thanks to Report for America, this issue is being covered. 

Local news has a major money problem. The common narrative is that, as the internet grew in prominence over the last two decades, readers flocked to social media and online-only publications, leaving their local papers behind.

According to Report for America co-founder Steve Waldman, that isn’t quite true. “The problem isn’t that readers went to the internet,” says Waldman. “It’s that advertisers left. They went to Monster, then to Craigslist, then to Facebook and Google. A lot of local papers actually have bigger audiences than they used to, but they’re trading analog dollars for digital dimes.”

If newspapers can’t get funding from advertisers or subscribers, they can’t pay journalists to cover local issues—meaning that outside of large urban areas, people aren’t hearing the stories most relevant to them.

SCE’s Catalyst Grants are meant to address urgent issues like this by supporting organizations that approach them in new and promising ways. Last year we offered a Catalyst Grant to Report for America: an organization dedicated to strengthening communities and democracy through local journalism that is truthful, fearless, fair and smart.

Report for America corps member Kate Groetzinger interviews Navajo veteran Benny Fatt at a Veterans Day event.

After the 2016 election, The GroundTruth Project CEO Charles Sennott approached Waldman, a journalist and entrepreneur who had long advocated for greater investment into the collapsing local journalism industry. Inspired by programs like Teach for America and the Peace Corps, they founded Report for America.

Emerging journalists and local newsrooms both apply to Report for America, which matches them to one another and partially subsidizes the journalist’s salary. The journalist gains a year of experience in a newsroom as a full employee, covering an under-reported issue that’s much more prescient than the average first-year beat. In turn, the newsroom receives a talented journalist and the ability to cover an issue they might not otherwise have been able to afford. In addition, the newsroom gains invaluable fundraising experience: while Report for America covers about half of the reporter’s salary, they support the newsroom in raising the other half from their community.

Kate Groetzinger is a great example of how this relationship can work. After working at several Texas-based newspapers and receiving a Master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Texas, she landed a position through Report for America at KUER—the NPR station serving southeast Utah—covering indigenous issues. Thanks to this partnership, historically undercovered issues like the digital divide on indigenous reservations now have a major platform.

When Report for America launched in 2017, it did so with just three journalists. This past cycle, they received 1,800 applications for 200 positions. They’d like to place 1,000 journalists per year by 2024—an ambitious goal, but an important one. Says Waldman, “We’re expanding that fast because the size of the crisis demands it.”

An employee of a Cape Cod grocery store takes a phone order in late March.

Today, the local journalism crisis is compounded by another threat: the COVID-19 pandemic. To fight this invisible threat, communities must unify and cooperate. Accurate, relevant reporting is essential to fighting misinformation and educating the public on their role in stopping the spread.

“We talk a lot about the ‘information health’ of a community,” says Waldman. “COVID-19 has made us realize that you need good local journalism to have a community that’s literally healthy, too.”

Waldman is clear-eyed about how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting their local journalism partners. As donations dwindle and revenue-generating events are cancelled, many newsrooms are requesting greater subsidy for their journalists or pulling out of the program entirely.

However, many more newsrooms are doubling down. They recognize both the severity of the crisis and the role they can play in addressing it. Report for America is supporting these newsrooms by offering virtual training and remaining flexible when journalists switch to COVID-19 beats.

Today, good local news is more important than ever. We’re proud to have supported Report for America’s efforts to strengthen reporting in communities across the country—through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Learn more about Report for America today.

All photos © Report for America

REFUNITE: Reconnecting Refugee Families

When conflict escalated in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2013, 16-year-old Tino fled the country—leaving his entire family behind.

Sadly, Tino’s story is a common one. The DRC has suffered ethnic, political, and economic conflicts for decades—conflicts that have driven millions of people from their homes. Refugees and internally displaced people are forced to leave quickly. Like Tino, many become separated from their families in the process.

There are over 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world. Many of those people don’t know where their loved ones are.

Our Catalyst Grants are meant to address urgent issues like this by supporting organizations that approach them in new and promising ways. Last year we offered a Catalyst Grant to REFUNITE: a nonprofit that uses simple technology to reconnect refugees with their missing families.

REFUNITE believes that everyone has the right to know where their family is. Photos © REFUNITE.

Living in neighboring Uganda, Tino didn’t know if he would see his family again. Until he found REFUNITE.

There are many reasons that displaced people struggle to find their loved ones. With their families also fleeing conflict, refugees can’t just call home and expect someone to pick up. Family members find themselves in different camps, countries, or continents. What little information might be available is often spread across several nonprofit organizations—and recorded in languages that refugees don’t speak.

When brothers Christopher and David Mikkelsen founded REFUNITE in 2005, they sought to cut through this confusion and give displaced people a single platform for family reconnection. REFUNITE has worked with Ericsson, the United Nations, and local mobile network operators to create a user-friendly database containing over 1 million profiles of displaced people. This network can be accessed through a mobile phone, computer, or help line, and is available in 17 countries where displacement is commonplace.

Simultaneously, REFUNITE has worked to create genuine economic opportunities for displaced people where such opportunities are scarce. In Uganda, the nonprofit is piloting a program called LevelApp that pays refugees to sort and label the images that help computer algorithms get smarter. Tech companies pay well for this service; in the communities where it’s offered, participating refugees earn three times more than those that do not. The 10,000 people who participate in LevelApp have already categorized over 175 million images—demonstrating the powerful potential of bringing digital jobs to refugee communities.

These platforms are major steps in the right direction. But perhaps REFUNITE’s greatest innovation is its network of more than 6,000 community leaders—leaders with deep roots in places with limited access to mobile phones. This network has a collective reach of more than five million people across 35 countries. If a user like Tino notifies REFUNITE that he’s looking for a family member, REFUNITE will blast a text message to community leaders active in areas where Congolese refugees often end up. Those local leaders connect refugees with family members in remote regions that REFUNITE staff wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

Tino, his mother, and the cell phone that helped reunite them.

When Tino fled the country, his mother also left—first to the capital of Kinshasa, and then to France. Five years later, she saw a notification on her phone: “You have one new message. To read it, go to”

The message was from Tino. And he was contacting her from Uganda—thousands of miles away.

Since 2005, REFUNITE has received more than 1 million registrations. Every day, they organize over 2,000 searches. And they’ve reconnected over 40,000 families. We’re proud to have played even a small role in supporting REFUNITE’s mission.

Behind every one of those 40,000 connections is a story like Tino’s. When he talked to his mother for the first time in five years, he didn’t know what to say. Eventually, he spoke: “Mom, I love you so much.”

Learn more about REFUNITE today.

Kusanya Keeps it Real Local

Kusanya Cafe is an Englewood gathering space that happens to also serve great coffee and tasty, reasonably priced breakfast and lunch. They’re not striving to become Chicago’s go to spot to grab a coffee and run. The nonprofit cafe is the epitome of local investment. Located at 69th & Green, in the heart of Chicago’s southwest side Englewood community, Kusanya is a place of the people, for the people, by the people—of Englewood. The sign on their door says as much. The organization runs on cafe sales, small donations and grants, but thrives on community engagement, intentional collaboration, casual interactions, and chance meetings that happen when Englewood neighbors come in and get comfortable. Kusanya is one of our most distinctive 2019 Catalyst grantees. We were thrilled to catch up with Executive Director Phil Sipka and learn more about how Kusanya is supporting Englewood.

Think of that one family member or neighbor who always hosts every get together, casual or formal—the house that is always open to everyone, where you can always come together, get something good to eat, relax, laugh, seek advice, make plans and linger: that’s the feeling you encounter at Kusanya.

The following Q & A has been edited for clarity.

SCE: Tell me a bit about what happens here at Kusanya.

Phil: Kusanya [Swahili for gather] from its inception was meant to be a vehicle to bring our neighbors together. We wanted to do something empowering for our neighborhood and we thought who better to empower the neighborhood than neighbors themselves. Lots of times organizations want to help by bringing in a lot of outside help. We believe that true empowerment really means you can do it on your own.

We tried to create a place where all the different members and cross sections of our neighborhood could come together and feel comfortable and that doesn’t happen very often.

It’s often overlooked how diverse Englewood is. It’s not racially diverse in any way, but it is very diverse in terms of where people come from, education, economic background, why people have located here: some families have lived here for sixty years, some used to live in Robert Taylor and when that came down they came to Englewood. People are in a lot of different financial situations here. Middle class people that live in Englewood are like middle class people everywhere: they drive to work, their kids go to school outside the neighborhood, they go grocery shopping outside the neighborhood, their entertainment happens outside the neighborhood. And they’re very cardoor to front door when they get back to Englewood. And other people are not.

How do we get those cross sections together? We wanted to create a space where people would come together organically, without being assigned to each other, not having an intermediary. Just people getting together. [That’s how] strong community happens and collaborations happens and ideas happen. And that makes for a better community overall.

Another one of our things is being very autonomous, believing that grants are incredible, but grants with strings attached: that’s where all the power’s at and that’s not what we wanted.

We always wanted Englewood residents to have the say in what we’re doing. Things like the SCE grant are incredibly helpful because they allow us to do more capacity building projects. We want our operations to be covered so that we are never desperate for money. We utilize grants to either generate more revenue or to create programs or a framework for programs that can happen. [Maintaining] autonomy and Englewood people at the table has been the heart of what we’re doing.

SCE: When you talk about Kusanya, you often use “we”. Who’s that we?

Phil: The we is the board. And the board over a few generations. We’re on probably our fourth full board right now. Members generally serve about two-year terms. The ‘we’ initially meant neighbors on my block. Probably some of the most incredible people who’ve ever living in Englewood have been on our board. That’s an important limit for us. We want only Englewood residents. And that’s really important because the board decides big things about how we face the neighborhood, how we approach the neighborhood.

If you don’t live in it, then you shouldn’t be making decisions about how to live in it.

That limits us in ways, like fundraising. We could get some really connected, really affluent people that want to be part of the board, but we say no for Englewood autonomy sake.

SCE: Having a board of only community members, being naturally invested, what are some board led initiatives or projects that the board handles?

Phil: We’re choosing only people who create first. Clarence Hogan for example, before he was a board member, started creating all these curated storytelling events at Kusanya. He worked with Salvation Army kids, teaching them how to tell their story. He also had adult storytelling events, bringing social events back to the neighborhood. We don’t hang out in our neighborhood. He’s making room to do that. Eric Jones has been creating a lot around music and art. He was collaborating with local artists, and creating gallery events using our roasting room next door long before he was on the board.

The concerts Eric was organizing at Kusanya caught the notice of Whole Foods [63rd & Halsted]. They started a five after five wine event because they got inspired by what he was doing. And they asked him to coordinate live music events there that became really popular too.

Lauren Duffy, who owns this building, has done a lot with real estate around Englewood. This is very much her project. We probably wouldn’t exist if she hadn’t purchased this building. Jonathan Brooks is a pastor in the neighborhood, a hip hop artist and an author. He just published a book about the neighborhood and community organizing. Giselle Owens has a lineage of entrepreneurship in the neighborhood. Her family has owned business in Englewood for fifty or sixty years and she’s running about three different businesses right now. It’s great to have partners, well, bosses really, who are all very involved in the neighborhood.

SCE: What has surprised you in doing this work?

Phil: A lot of things. Some I was prepared for, some I wasn’t. I think one of the things that keeps surprising me, and often goes under the radar is how loyal and ethical a neighborhood like Englewood is.

There’s an ethic that’s stronger than in most neighborhoods, I think because in others, people maybe don’t need each other.

I  knew the neighborhood would look out for the cafe, I was surprised at to what level people have. One of the best stories I have, something that meant a lot to me: I was leaving the cafe really late one night, maybe around 11 pm. This guy Razor is at the corner yelling at some kids, really letting them have it. When I asked what was going on, he told me, “I saw some kids looking in those windows and I told them they had nothing to look at and to get the hell out of here.” You don’t just call somebody out when you don’t know what they’ve got, what kind of day they’ve had, what they’re going to do, so putting yourself out there—physically, putting yourself in danger for the sake of an organization—that doesn’t make sense, that kind of loyalty. The decision to put yourself in harms way, that’s the ethic that I feel very honored by.

In a negative way, I was surprised by how long it took to adopt the idea of having a cafe. Some people came on board right away, others  still stop in and say, “I’ve been walking by for a few years and decided to stop in today.” It’s taken years, and it’s not like there’s competition! But I have to remember that change hasn’t been good for the neighborhood for a long time. So to ask somebody to believe, ‘oh, this change is going to be good’, when a lot of the changes over the last sixty years have been negative, it’s a lot to ask. So now coming up on five and a half years, we’re finally now seeing movement.

It’s not just about our organization now, but it’s about the neighborhood as a whole.

I’m happily surprised at how much more collaborative things are at year five opposed to year one. Then, all these non-profits were really siloed. It’s so cool to see how nonprofits are now sharing and co-promoting.

SCE: What do you think has inspired that type of collaboration? What  part has Kusanya had in that happening?

Phil: The reasons are hard to pinpoint. I would guess just small acts of generosity. A few people being very generous, just saying, ‘sure, use this space or have this x’ that then inspires others to do something generous. It’s the whole pay it forward idea.

For instance, I Grow Chicago just came in and said they’d love to do a free yoga class for the neighborhood. At the time, they needed public space and we said sure.

It’s been amazing, they provide everything and our neighbors have free yoga. It’s really caught on and is super popular. And they just offered it up and have been doing it for five years. That’s another surprising thing—We’re so hipster, what are the most popular things that we have going on, both started by Englewood organizations, run by Englewood residents—yoga and storytelling. And our new trivia nights are a hit too.

But that’s also part of it. We wanted the neighborhood to create what it wanted. We don’t program. We wait for people in the neighbor to program. Growing Home offered a night market and started to bring produce to sell residents [outside of traditional farmer’s market hours], and then we asked to buy produce for the cafe from them, so that’s been another really nice partnership. Teamwork Englewood, before we were even opened came in and got us a seed grant which led to other grant money and donations. There have been so many who have come together for Kusanya, for Englewood. Even other organizations who have said, we’ll cater with just you guys to keep money in the neighborhood or who regularly rent space from us.

SCE: Tell me about the community garden.

Phil: It’s still in the process of getting built. Our main idea is a mini Englewood Ravinia. We are asking now how do we gather people in an outdoor space, in an even more organic, even more approachable environment. There are a lot intimidation barriers for people. We all experience it, maybe just in different places. To get somebody through the door here is a big win, so an open lot is even better for what we want to do. Our job is to make a really pretty canvas. There will be a stage and a shipping container pop-up store. We also want to have rentable garden plots, where you can plant whatever you want to plant. I think a community garden is nice, but we want to give people more control. Our idea is to have concerts and our yoga teacher is chomping at the bit to teach yoga outdoors. We don’t even know what all will be created, but we want to make it open. We’re seeking collaborations. Englewood Brews is talking to us about growing hops on the lot. There’s a lot of promise.

SCE: Because Kusanya is so focused on things happening organically, without pre-planning, how do you measure success?

Phil: We have a lot of different rubrics for measuring success. Number of events happening the cafe is a definite measure, and also who runs and attends them. Customer count on any given day is another, but more, the constituency of those customers. Are they staying?

If we’re just a food service place then we’re not really accomplishing our mission.

We want to know who’s coming and also how they are engaging. How are our staff doing? How are we preparing them for even better jobs? Part of our apprenticeship program is to not just employ people for a good period of time but for them to acquire good management and other skills that they take with them. Another big thing for us is overall neighborhood perception. That’s hard to measure, but being on the ground, you can really get the vibe. The biggest one might just be, are people coming together? And how people are feeling about themselves and their neighborhood. If we get that wildly successful middle class family and also get the dude that just stands on the corner all day to both come in and feel like it’s their place, that’s the ultimate form of success. If that’s happening then we know we’re really collaborating. And that’s happening more and more.

SCE: Tell me about the apprenticeship program

Phil: We’ve based it in my own and the boards experiences of  working with other organizations and learning from them. Like with the board, we limit ourselves to hiring very locally, here in Englewood.

We wanted to give priority to our neighbors who generally don’t get prioritized. We want to give them as may tools as we can to succeed.

I think if you can do food service, you can do any job. Very few jobs require you to be very fast, very precise and to be happy and smiling while working the entire time.

In our apprenticeship matrix, people literally control their own destiny. We list every expectation we’ll ever have of you at the cafe up front. As you acquire skills and show proficiency, you get a pay raise, you get access to more hours. There are three phases. We want this to be empowering like we want the cafe to be empowering. You control the experience. Your manager doesn’t matter. If you do well, then you get compensated for it. It’s not based on feelings, it’s based on more objective, predetermined things. How many jobs do you know exactly the things you need to do to get a raise?

SCE: What do the skills look like in each phase?

Phil: All the things you need to do well are basic competencies that you can move through as fast as you want. A lot of these competencies are soft skills, but we also want to incentivize proactivity. This is an area where everybody has had really different life experiences. In some instances proactivity and curiosity hasn’t always been rewarded. Delayed gratification hasn’t been rewarded. Trying to create an opportunity where those get noticed and rewarded is our goal. We also do a one month trial with all of our apprentices. We bring someone on and then the staff votes on whether they stay. Staff chooses their teammates. They own their own team. They’ve always chosen very well. That’s part of empowerment.

I don’t think you can empower without giving up some power and control.

I can’t empower the neighborhood with events if I get to choose all the events. It’s the same thing with choosing employees. I cant empower the staff without giving up what would be seen as a normal right of getting to choose who comes on.

SCE: What new partnerships are you working on? Where do you source coffee/food/etc?

Phil: We still are limited to places that can deliver. That’s just a logistical thing. We haven’t been able to source a lot of local food. We have a lot of conflicting ethics. For instance, conflict between where we source our food and affordability. We could get super organic, super local produce all the time, but that would price out our menu. We couldn’t have somebody from off the block come in and afford a sandwich then. You can say you’re all inclusive and you want to serve everybody in the neighborhood, but your prices tell you how inclusive you are. If you price people out, you are not welcoming. While we haven’t been able to do too much with food. We do now actually roast all of our coffee.

All of our coffee comes from about 10 ft over, right next door. Our importer is in Bridgeport. They have a lot of direct relationships with coffee offering so we try to utilize those. That was another thing that grants provided. That was a capacity building project. We used about $10,000 dollars in grants and rehabbed the whole facility next door, we set up a roaster and now between coffee roasting and room rentals, the roasting room produces about $30,000 a year. That’s what we try to do with grants. Since we made that investment, we’ve probably made $90,000 to $100,000 to put back in.

[As for] future partnerships, we want to continue deepening partnership with Growing Home. Their admin offices are now right above us. It’s hard for them because they are the finest certified organic farm in the city of Chicago and they have self-sustaining goals as well. We’ll of course continue partnership with I Grow Chicago. I think a partnership with Englewood Brews is going to be interesting. Maybe do some great hoppy beers. Also with Growing Home, we’re talking with them about their job readiness program. They help formerly incarcerated and others struggling to find jobs and give them a job training course. We may be able to use that as a feeder program to the cafe’s apprenticeship program. I don’t know what all the lot’s going to do, hopefully it’s space that several Englewood organizations can use. We want to be able to be able to give it away.

SCE:What can funding organizations, and other larger NPO’s, local and national, learn from what Kusyana is doing in Englewood, in terms of lessons on collaboration, growth and sustainability?

Phil: Immediately I can say they need the humility of knowing that you don’t know what’s actually going on in neighborhoods.

It’s hard not to be patronizing, and we all think that what we think is right and that we’re helpful, but there has to be humility that says, I don’t know enough about that.

I don’t need to try and lead anything. I need to spend time figuring out who’s already leading and then support them in whatever way they need to be supported. That might not be sexy for us. When you get people that are already on board and who are creators you need to latch on and support them as much as you can. A lot of times the whole nonprofit system doesn’t incentivize being good at what you do, it only incentivizes being good at presenting well what you do. If you present well someone will give you money and if you can’t, then they won’t. There’s a lot of ‘come to us and impress us’ kind of thing opposed to funders who really care about money going to a great place, and spending time going out and finding where the work is happening, who the great leaders are. The leaders who are spending all their days looking for you, those might not be the people who you should fund. You want people who are going to be on the ground, who don’t have time to go look for you.

And that’s where SCE is great. I never sent a letter, you literally just suddenly said, ‘Here’s a check. We see what you’re doing. Keep doing it.’ You’re already in the know. That’s what’s so cool about the approach. I’m too busy during the day to look for grants. I’m working with my neighbors. We’re building things. I’ve always seen this as a major disconnect. If I were to over-characterize the nonprofit sector, I’d say you’re either connected with donors or you’re connected to the neighborhood, but you can’t be both.

The job for funders shouldn’t be to notice who’s knocking down their door, they need to look for the people too busy to come find them.

Those are the ones who are really going to use well the money. They’re not going to take three quarters of  it to pay the development director who got them your grant, they don’t even have a development director. And their board is out there building.

One other thing, eliminate the patronizing view of the neighborhood.

Don’t look at any neighborhood and not think that there are already people there doing great work.

It might be under the radar. Like people don’t believe that Englewood can lead itself, people think that we really need some outside help. As an 11 year resident, I can say that we’re really just under resourced.  All the skills are already here. We don’t need as much from the outside as people might assume.

Images courtesy of Kusanya Cafe.

2018 Catalyst Grantees

SCE sends year-end grants to 21 organizations who are solving critical social challenges

In 1986, while recalling a childhood story, TV host Fred Rogers offered what would become a timeless piece of wisdom. As a tragic world event unfolded on TV, his mother turned to him, sensing his uneasiness, and said, “Look for the helpers. There is always somebody trying to help.” In 2018, the SCE Catalyst awardees did more than just help. They sacrificed, they solved, they led, and they inspired.

As part of the SCE Catalyst program, each year we select a small group of organizations from across the country who are pursuing innovative solutions to our most critical social challenges. Each one receives an unexpected gift to support – and validate – their impressive work, and throughout the year, SCE will feature awardees on our website. From criminal justice to immigration to civic engagement, these 21 organizations are catalysts for social progress.

Civic Engagement: Generation Citizen, IssueVoter, The People’s Supper

Community and Youth Development: Beyond the Ball, Kusanya Cafe, YR Media

Criminal Justice: Prosecutor Impact, Restorative Justice Community Court, The Bail Project

Education: Beyond12, Posse Foundation, TalkingPoints


Health: Canine Therapy Corps

Immigration: GirlForward, REFUNITE, Upwardly Global

Legal Aid: Upsolve

Social Services: CASA, mRelief

Workforce Development: Techtonica


Generation Citizen: We admire Generation Citizen’s (GC) innovative way to empower youth to become more engaged and effective citizens.  Their mission is to ensure that every student in the United States receives an effective action civics education. GC does this by directly engaging schools in action civics while simultaneously building the demand for the concept across the country. Standardized and vetted by civics experts, educators, and academics, its curriculum is taught by motivated college student volunteers. Student experiences include meeting with legislators, writing opinion articles, and filming documentaries. The organization aims to reach 30,000 youth by 2020.

IssueVoter: Founded in 2016, IssueVoter gives people a tool to track what’s happening in Congress and weigh in on issues that matter to them. The platform is designed to make it simpler to follow what elected officials are doing, easily share opinions about proposed bills, and track the results of votes. It translates bills into plain language, along with bullet points from both sides, and creates a custom scorecard of your rep’s voting record. IssueVoter is a nonpartisan online platform, and we admire its mission to give everyone a voice in our democracy by making civic engagement accessible, efficient, and impactful.

The People’s Supper: We are impressed by The People’s Supper authentic approach to improving civil discourse.  This project started in January 2017 as #100Days100Dinners, and since then it has partnered with individuals and community organizations to host more than 1,000 dinners and events across the country. It aims to repair the breach in our interpersonal relationships across political, ideological, and identity differences, leading to more civil discourse.  Whether at a kitchen table, at a library or in a conference room, trained hosts guide small groups of six to eight guests as they listen to one another’s stories. With the support The People’s Supper, friends, neighbors and members of different communities come together to hear and be heard.


Beyond the Ball: We believe in Beyond the Ball’s commitment to using the power of sport and play to reclaim space, unite the community, change lives, and develop a culture of opportunity that cultivates hope. Beyond the Ball provides a variety of programming from ages 5-24 in the Little Village and North Lawndale neighborhoods of Chicago. More than 1,500 youth are served each year. The organization’s goal is to use its programs to develop relationships with youth to strengthen their leadership skills, create a bond to the community, and construct positive identities.

Kusanya Cafe: Kusanya Cafe is more than a place to meet for coffee or good food in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. It is a symbol of community, creativity, and promise. Founded by Englewood residents in 2013, Kusanya Cafe is a nonprofit coffee shop and creative community gathering place. Its mission is to provide a place where great people can come together over great food, in addition to hosting community-born events. Every month, Kusanya is home to a variety of community-driven arts, culture and educational events. The cafe is sustained by sales, individual donations, and small grants, and we admire the cafe’s grand vision for the residents of Englewood.

YR Media: We are impressed by YR Media’s national network of young journalists and artists. The organization collaborates with youth around the country and top media professionals to create content that matters. It partners with outlets like Teen Vogue, NPR, Pandora, and New York Times to further amplify its work. YR Media prepares diverse young people for the 21st-century digital workplace by offering them hands-on education and employment in journalism, arts, and technology, as well as access to support services like academic advising and mental health care.


Prosecutor Impact: District Attorney offices often do not have the time or resources to train new prosecutors or collect data that measures the true impact of their decisions. As a result, traditional incentives in DA’s offices yield traditional results: too much crime in concentrated areas, too much wasted expense with little benefit, too many people in prison, too many unjust outcomes. Founded in 2016, Prosecutor Impact aims to improve community safety through education, training, and improved access to technology for new prosecutors. We are impressed by its comprehensive and strategic approach to foster a fairer justice system.

Restorative Justice Community Court: We are proud to support the Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC), a groundbreaking collaboration between Chicago’s community-based service providers and the court system. The RJCC will serve 18-26 year olds from Chicago’s North Lawndale community who are charged with non-violent felonies and misdemeanors. The RJCC engages participants in restorative justice practices, coupled with social services to heal and strengthen all affected, and it is the only court in the country that is 100% based on the restorative justice model. Defendants enter the program voluntarily. Those who successfully complete their Repair of Harm Agreement in the community will never have charges on their record. An equal partnership of the Cook County Circuit Court and North Lawndale Community Restorative Justice Hub members leads the RJCC.

The Bail Project: The Bail Project combats mass incarceration on the front end by paying bail for tens of thousands of low-income Americans at risk of pretrial detention. This allows individuals to fight their cases without feeling pressured to plead guilty. The organization grew from the The Bronx Freedom Fund, which began in 2007. In 2017, it received funding for a national expansion under the name The Bail Project. The organization’s goal is to help more than 160,000 people, making The Bail Project the largest non-governmental decarceration of Americans in history. We are honored to play a small part in their efforts to support low-income Americans at risk of pretrial detention.


Beyond 12: We are impressed by Beyond 12’s innovative approach to improving college completion rates. Beyond 12 addresses the college completion challenge by acting as a data and service bridge between K-12 and higher education. The organization advances its mission through 3 core activities: Track , Connect, and Coach. All three activities are linked to a data analytics engine that provides both quantitative and qualitative data about students’ postsecondary success to education administrators to help them better prepare and support their students for college success.

The Posse Foundation: Founded in 1989, The Posse Foundation believes that to foster leaders who better represent the demographics of the United States, we must broaden the pool of students who enroll at the best institutions of higher education. The organization identifies, recruits and trains individuals with extraordinary leadership potential. Posse Scholars receive full-tuition leadership scholarships from Posse’s partner colleges and universities. With support from Posse, Scholars excel at school, win competitive internships, earn prestigious awards, and are hired for top jobs. There are nearly 8,490 Scholars and alumni, 57 college and university partners, and 190 corporate partners in the Posse network. We admire Posse’s continued impact in the field of higher education.

TalkingPoints: The correlation between student success and parent engagement is well researched.  For parents who do not speak English, however, engaging with teachers can be overwhelming – or seem impossible. TalkingPoints drives student success for low-income, diverse families by reducing the language barrier through an online communication platform that translates teacher messages into the parent’s home language. The tool then translates the parent’s response back into English. The platform allows teachers to regularly stay in touch with parents, whether sending updates, reminders, or check-ins. It offers 20 languages through human and machine translation, and more than 20,000 teachers and 120,000 parents were on the platform in 2017. We believe its innovative communication platform to connect schools and families can be a driver for student success.

ENVIRONMENT We are impressed by’s commitment to solving the climate crisis through grassroots organizing. Its online campaigns, organizing efforts, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteers in over 188 countries. The organization focuses on projects that oppose new coal, oil, and gas; takes money out of the companies that heat up the planet; and build 100% clean energy solutions. was founded in 2008 and is known for global days of action that link activists and organizations around the world. These include the International Day of Climate Action in 2009, the Global Work Party in 2010, and Moving Planet in 2011. It also provides guides, templates, visuals, and resources to help individuals organize against the climate crisis.


Canine Therapy Corps: Since 1991, Canine Therapy Corps’ volunteers and certified therapy dogs have been serving the Chicago metropolitan area, working with health care, education, and social services professionals to help people recover from physical and emotional trauma. The organization customizes and tailors its programs to meet the therapeutic objectives of the special needs population served. Programs are goal-directed and interactive, making the experience an important part of recovery. Approximately 65 active volunteer teams work in programs across the Chicago metropolitan area. Each year, the organization provides 1,400 hours of therapy to more than 5,000 individuals at no charge to any client or facility. We are honored to support their work.


GirlForward: Working in both Chicago and Austin, TX (with plans to launch a third location in 2019), GirlForward is an organization that supports young women within refugee populations through three core programs. Its Mentoring Program focuses on planning and acting for a fully-realized future, its Camp GirlForward encourages the development of English skills, and its Safe Spaces project provides the opportunity to connect with others in the community and organization. Founded by Blair Brettschneider, a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient, we believe in GirlForward’s leadership and commitment to empowering refugees.

REFUNITE: REFUNITE is the world’s largest missing persons platform for refugees and displaced populations. Working in off-grid countries through partnerships with the private sector and with twenty mobile operators globally, it has more than 1 million registered users. REFUNITE works across 19 countries and has access to an estimated 360 million mobile subscribers. The organization works to provide a global, anonymous and secure network to assist refugees in reconnecting with missing family members. It has reunited an estimated 40,000 families, often after months or years of searching. We are impressed by REFUNITE’s innovative approach to this humanitarian crisis.

Upwardly Global: We admire Upwardly Global’s mission to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees and integrate this population into the professional U.S. workforce. There are about 2 million immigrants and refugees currently in the U.S. who have college degrees from their home countries but are unemployed or working far below their skill level. Upwardly Global is the first and longest-serving organization that helps work-authorized immigrants, refugees, asylees, and Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs) restart their professional careers in the United States. The organization works with employers such as Accenture, Levi Strauss, Wells Fargo, WeWork and many others to connect them to skilled candidates. It has placed more than 5,600 people. Upwardly Global has offices in Chicago, New York, DC and San Francisco.


Upsolve: Upsolve helps low-income Americans in financial distress get a fresh start through Chapter 7 bankruptcy at no cost. It does this by combining the power of technology with pro bono attorneys. Upsolve was founded out of Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab in 2016. The process looks like this: an individual is referred to Upsolve by local nonprofits, Upsolve operates an online platform that helps the individual complete all relevant forms, and then a pro bono attorney reviews and files the forms. In its first 12 months, the organization helped erased $2M in debt for 60 low-income New Yorkers, averaging a $40K increase in net worth per user. In 2018, it is expanding across America, starting with 14 legal aid organizations in 11 states. We are proud to support their work.

CASA: We believe CASA’s work is vital to the soul our nation. The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association promotes court-appointed volunteer advocacy so every abused or neglected child in the United States can be safe, have a permanent home and have the opportunity to thrive. CASA and guardian ad litem (GAL) volunteers make sure children don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes. Volunteers stay with each case until it is closed and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Founded in 1977, today there are nearly 950 CASA/GAL programs in 49 states recruiting, training and supporting volunteers. In total more than 85,000 volunteers support 260,000 children each year.

mRelief: It is mRelief’s mission to simplify the burdensome process of applying for food stamps to ensure that anyone can access the safety net without it contributing to the already stressful circumstance of poverty. mRelief has built an easy-to-use platform on web and text messaging for families to find out if they qualify and enroll in food stamps. Instead of a 20 page application, mRelief texts 10 simple questions that take less than 3 minutes to answer. Over 260,000 families in 42 states have used mRelief to secure food stamps and other public support. We admire their innovative and efficient solution to address this challenge for low-income Americans.


Techtonica: We are impressed by Techtonica’s efforts to reduce the “tech gap” in the Bay Area for low-income women and non-binary, feminine-adjacent adults. The tech industry in the Bay Area is causing displacement and increasing income disparity. The industry also needs to build more diverse technical teams. Techtonica aims to close this gap by partnering with tech companies to provide a 6 month apprenticeship, living stipends, and job placements. Techtonica vets candidates and then collaborates with the corporate partners to design the apprenticeship experience. Corporate partnerships for apprenticeships and placements include Pantheon, Redfin,, HUGE, mixpanel, and Rally.

Check back throughout the year for features on each organization.

Catalyst Grantee Profile: Greater Chicago Food Depository

Greater Chicago Food Depository

Interview with Alexandra Funk, Senior Manager of Corporate & Foundation Relations, Greater Chicago Food Depository

Organization Name 
Greater Chicago Food Depository
Organization Website
Population Served 
The Food Depository provides food assistance and resources for long-term economic stability to residents of Cook County, IL.
Organization Location 
Chicago, IL
Founding Year 
Organization Mission 
The mission of the Greater Chicago Food Depository is “providing food for hungry people while striving to end hunger in our community.”
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique. 
Too many of our neighbors need help putting food on their table. Each year, more than 812,000 people in Cook County turn to the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s network for food. Hunger exists in every neighborhood in Cook County. It affects children, veterans, older adults and families. Despite a recovering economy, nearly one-third of Cook County residents live in low- income households. While the need is high, the Food Depository fights hunger every day, in every community.
The Food Depository believes that everyone should have access to the nutritious food they need to lead healthy, stable lives. To that end, the organization works with a network of 700 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and programs to fight hunger in Cook County. The Food Depository also addresses the root causes of hunger with a foodservice job-training program for underemployed and unemployed individuals called Chicago’s Community Kitchens. It connects low-income families to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other public programs, provides nutrition education and capacity building resources to a network of partners, and advocates for supportive nutrition policies.
The Food Depository’s network of partners provide food for our neighbors in need and implement programs tailored to serving our community’s most vulnerable populations. Beyond providing food assistance, the Food Depository’s network provides clients with additional access points to connect with supplementary social services, such as housing assistance, workforce readiness training or benefits access, ultimately bolstering clients’ abilities to become financially stable.
The Food Depository knows that fighting hunger is much more than just distributing food. The organization works to provide long-term solutions to end hunger by mobilizing the community’s voice through local, county, state and federal advocacy efforts.
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved?
In Fiscal Year 2018, the Food Depository’s network of member agencies and programs distributed more than 69 million pounds of food, one-third of which was fresh fruit and vegetables. Additionally, the network had more than 4.6 million duplicated visits through grocery programs and served nearly 5.7 million duplicated individuals through prepared meal programs.
In its nearly 40 years of operation, the organization has significantly expanded the scale of its operations while enhancing the quality of food distributed. For example, between 2001 and 2018 the Food Depository doubled the total pounds of food provided to those in need. Building on the increased distribution of healthy, perishable food items, the Food Depository is currently finalizing an organization-wide nutrition strategy to promote healthy food choices. This strategy underscores the importance of distributing nutrient-rich foods and supplements food distribution efforts with a variety of nutrition education and outreach resources to promote healthy choices.
At the same time, the Food Depository has recently partnered with large-scale systems to reach more individuals and families where they live and work. The Food Depository has built relationships with schools systems, higher education institutions, healthcare systems, Veterans Affairs hospitals, libraries, community centers, after school and summer programs, senior centers and residential buildings to support its community-driven approach to hunger relief. Key collaborations among the organization’s network of more than 700 community partners include: Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS), ACCESS Community Health Network, Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Public Libraries, Chicago Park District, Chicago Housing Authority and the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them? 
For nearly 40 years, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has been a trusted leader in our community, providing food for our hungry neighbors. Over time, the need has changed and our programs have evolved. Increasingly, hunger affects children, working families, seniors and people with disabilities.
As the organization strengthens initiatives to serve additional individuals and families, the Food Depository monitors dynamic hunger trends in the community and provides recommendations that will inform future programmatic decisions. For example, the organization recently concluded a study of unmet needs for food assistance among people with disabilities. Key findings led to changes in distribution strategies to eliminate barriers to food access for this vulnerable population. The Food Depository’s Community Impact team is conducting training sessions across the program network on food issues for people with disabilities to raise awareness and improve service delivery.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field? 
The Food Depository will continue to strengthen community partnerships and implement tailored community-driven programming to both increase food access and address the long-term health challenges associated with food insecurity.
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field?
Ending hunger takes a community. There are many ways to get involved with the Food Depository’s mission.
Volunteer: Your time, talent and hard work make our daily response to hunger possible. Volunteer groups, families and individuals support our mission in a variety of ways. Volunteers play a crucial role in our work. Groups and individuals are welcome to join us at our warehouse and in the community.
Advocate: Raise your voice and take a stand against hunger. Encourage lawmakers to support policies that provide food for our neighbors in need.
Host a food drive: Collect canned goods at your school, office or event. Organize a virtual food drive and maximize your impact! Every item makes a difference for someone in need of a meal.
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals? 
The Food Depository deeply appreciates the generosity of community members, and cannot end hunger without the support of many. The best ways to help our organization accomplish its goals are by donating time or resources.
The generous support of donors makes an immediate impact on hunger in our community, ensuring the successful implementation of the organization’s hunger relief initiatives in Fiscal Year 2019. General operating investments allow the Food Depository to source and distribute healthy food where it is needed most, ensuring the specific dietary needs of clients from all backgrounds and the consistent availability of items that contribute to a wholesome diet.
The Food Depository’s virtual food drive platform also makes it easy to help Cook County families in need. With just a few clicks, you can purchase nutritious fresh produce and protein, start your own virtual food drive or host a traditional food drive. Thanks to the Food Depository’s wholesale purchasing power we’re able to provide 3 meals for every $1 donated – doubling or even tripling the amount of food your dollar can purchase at a regular grocery store.
The organization maintains a robust volunteer calendar; including twice daily repack sessions in the organization’s warehouse Tuesday through Saturday. These sessions are pivotal to carrying out the mission of the Food Depository, as they utilize the organization’s volunteer base to sort and repack products for distribution through the organization’s network of member agencies and community programs. Typical volunteer activities include gleaning fresh produce for quality and freshness and repacking bulk product such as cereal or rice into smaller portions for distribution.
Learn more here:

Selected Media Mentions
WBBM News Radio, “Newsmaker Making A Difference: Corry Simmons, Chicago’s Community Kitchens
Chicago Sun Times, “School’s out but free meals continue, thanks to Food Depository’s ‘Lunch Bus’”
Chicago Tribune, “‘I am able to eat because of this’: Produce trucks, farmers markets help solve Southland food deserts
ABC 7 Chicago, “Greater Chicago Food Depository volunteers key to fight against hunger”

Catalyst Grantee Profile: Vox Teen Communications

Vox Teen Communications

Interview with Susan Landrum, Executive Director, Vox Teen Communications

Organization Name
VOX Teen Communications
Organization Website
Population Served
Teens ages 13-19 in metro Atlanta (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties)
Organization Location
Atlanta, GA
Founding Year
Organization Mission
VOX is metro Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression. We connect diverse metro Atlanta teens to resources for building their confidence, increasing their capacity to meet life’s demands and ensuring their future success. VOX is creating a culture where adults and teens alike value the voices of teens in metro Atlanta, and where through VOX, teens are prepared, connected and valued.
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique.
The problem that VOX is committed to solving is ensuring that teens have an uncensored platform to share their stories and experiences through digital and print media. Through our intentional process of training teens in journalism, digital media and communications skills, we support their holistic development. We know that communication is just as much about listening as it is about talking, and we incorporate social emotional learning and leadership development into every aspect of our programming.
Our emphasis on being teen-led makes VOX a unique organization. We work to create a level playing field for teens and adults to collaborate, and teens play a role in every aspect of the organization. They serve on our Board of Directors, lead newsroom tours, edit their peers’ work, co-facilitate workshops, work as interns and much more. Our teen-centric culture and emphasis on regular formative evaluation ensures that teens’ voices are a part of every conversation, even when they are not physically present. The adult staff and volunteers are here to serve as “guides on the side” for the VOX teens and we often tell them “we work for you!”
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved.
In May 2018, we celebrated our 25th anniversary of serving teens in Atlanta! We are proud of VOX’s longevity and the way we have evolved and adapted over the past quarter century. We have a seen a lot of firsts – first email address, first dial-up Internet access, first Twitter account. We have been a part of many big events, including the 1996 Olympics and an economic downturn. Through all the ups and downs, VOX has remained a safe space for teens in Atlanta to be valued, to use their voices, and to develop skills for successful futures. We have remained nimble and responsive to the ever-changing needs of teens, but always with a focus on our mission. We know who we are as an organization and we are aware of our identity as the place where teens speak and Atlanta listens.
In recognition of this important milestone, we are in the process of a special 25th anniversary campaign. This campaign is supporting the recent build out of an audio recording studio in our downtown Atlanta newsroom as well as updates to our website to maximize our ability to reach teens with regular digital content. Funds raised are also being used for our upcoming strategic planning process and for strengthening our financial resources so we are poised for future growth. The final piece of this anniversary campaign is a needs assessment. We are evaluating the current landscape of youth development here in Atlanta as we determine how VOX and our plans for the future fit into the existing framework. We are engaging a variety of stakeholders in this process, including teens, Board members, staff, donors and community partners.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them?
An expected obstacle that we face is the reality of scarce resources. Like many nonprofits, we have a lot to do with a small but mighty team and there’s always more to do! There are always more teens who need supporting and more people who we need to engage with. Our staff work tirelessly to maximize the resources that we receive from the funding community, but cash flow is often a challenge. We opened a line of credit to help alleviate that burden, and we always work to maintain a healthy reserve account.
Unexpected obstacles that we have faced include the impact of current events on our teens. In recent years, this has included everything from school shootings to hate crimes to the continued weight of the political climate. Teens are dealing with traumatic events in the news and in their own lives. While we cannot control what is happening in the world around us, we can do everything possible to create a safe space for our teens. We use a narrative therapy approach here at VOX, and teens often choose to write about the impact of current events as a way to process what is happening. (We invite you to read Vox teens on Parkland or Vox Teens on Kavanaugh Hearings as examples). Everything we do is framed in a social-emotional lens, and we have several social workers on our adult staff. We are committed to supporting our teens as whole people living in a world that often feels confusing, threatening and volatile. This includes hosting social-emotional support groups, providing a space for teens to debrief, checking in one-on- one with teens and connecting them to community resources.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field?
In the youth development field, we are seeing more attention being paid to social-emotional learning and more organizations choosing to invest in this aspect of their programming. In addition, we are witnessing more conversations about the importance of trauma informed care, with the reality being that all people experience some form of trauma at some point in their lives. And we continue to hear more leaders and non-profits talk about how they can support youth voice and leadership in their organizations. We are wrapping up our needs assessment and we look forward to seeing what other trends emerge from that process. In thinking about the field of media, we continue to see a trend towards telling stories in multiple different formats so as many voices as possible are getting lifted up.
In the non-profit community, we are participating in more discussions around the importance of an organization’s culture, and recognizing that culture can matter just as much as the outputs. We are also exploring how we can talk about existential values from a data perspective. For example, how do you quantitatively represent why it is so important that teens feel valued in their communities? We know that the ability to communicate this data will help us convince potential funders to invest in VOX, and we want to learn how to better use data to tell the story behind our culture. In addition, VOX is committed to being a thought leader in the field of youth development and teen voice as we train other youth service providers on how to infuse more teen voice into their programming. We want to build a movement around this essential concept.
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field?
Our mantra at VOX is “teens first.” Our number one piece of advice for anyone in the youth development field is to engage teens in every aspect of the organization. Take a look at your landscape and ask where teens are or are not included. Create intentional times and spaces to hear from young people (and make sure they are teen-friendly times!) Remember that no community conversation is complete if it does not involve the voices of young people. We often say that teens are the future, but the reality is that they are a part of the present. Teens are active participants in society – they attend schools, frequent businesses and ride public transit. And yes, teens will be the leaders of the future, but they are also existing right now.
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals?
One of the most important ways funders can help VOX accomplish its goals is by increasing access to unrestricted funding. Many funding agencies will not allow grants to be used for overhead, but items like rent and administrative salaries are essential to a healthy and sustainable organization. Another way to help is through minimizing barriers to funding by using simple applications and reporting structures. Almost every funder has a different budget form, reporting process, etc. and this requires our staff to devote a significant amount of time and energy to dealing with red tape and bureaucracy. Simplifying the application and reporting process would allow our staff to spend more time actually serving and supporting our teens. Finally, we would be grateful for funders to consider supporting professional development opportunities. There are so many amazing trainings and conferences that our staff would benefit from greatly, but the cost is too high a barrier.

Selected Media Mentions
Georgia Trend,  “Georgia Trend’s 40 Under 40: Susan Landrum”
Atlanta Pride,  “2017 Atlanta Pride Guide, Vox Teen Communications” 
WABE,An Opportunity Lost:Vox ATL Teen’s Views on National School Walkout” 

Catalyst Grantee Profile: Center on Halsted

Center on Halsted

Interview with Modesto Valle, CEO, Center on Halsted

Organization Name 
Center on Halsted
Organization Website
Population Served 
LGBTQ and allies
Organization Location 
Chicago, IL
Founding Year 
Organization Mission 
Center on Halsted advances community and secures the health and well-being of the LGBTQ people of Chicagoland.
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique. 
Center on Halsted (COH) works to advance community and secure the health and well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people of Chicagoland. COH increases access for LGBTQ people by eliminating barriers related to the intersections of such identities as sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender and gender expression, economic status, physical or cognitive disability, and religion. COH’s approach is unique because it helps accomplish this work through providing a safe, affirming environment for a population too often exposed to violence and hate while advocating for change and acceptance in the community on a wide range of critical social issues at the individual, organizational, and community levels. Through arts, cultural, and affinity programming, it elevates and amplifies the history, lives, and contributions of LGBTQ people as a means of creating stronger identity and pride within the community while promoting inclusion and acceptance beyond it. Through social service offerings, COH provides resources to improve mental health, address the threat of HIV/AIDS to the LGBTQ community, and give youth and seniors the resources needed to live healthy and productive lives. COH also advances the LGBTQ community by hosting an array of robust, educational and enlightening programs open to the public as well as trainings on cultural competency. COH welcomes more than 511,000 visitors each year.
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved. 
Since opening the Center in 2007, COH has built the financial and administrative capacity to grow its annual operating budget to $7,000,000.
In FY2017, COH hired for the first time, a Director of Trans Relations and Community Engagement, Vanessa Sheridan, who took on the challenge of meeting with many Transgender groups and individuals throughout the Chicago transgender community. Today, Vanessa now serves as the Director of Gender Equity and Inclusion.
In FY2017, the Center, with support from the Board, hired an LGBTQ Person of Color for the role of a Community and Outreach Coordinator, Joanna Thompson, who managed outreach campaigns throughout the City to increase education and cultural competency while raising awareness of LGBTQ violence prevention and intervention strategies. Today, the role is now Director of Racial Equity and Inclusion.
The Youth Homelessness Initiative Program transitioned its housing of LGBTQ youth to the Woodlawn community in partnership with the Preservation for Affordable Housing (POAH) in the Winter of 2018.
The Center is setting out to open a COH youth “center” in the Woodlawn community of Chicago by FY2021.
Since the beginning of FY16, COH’s Youth Program Staff have provided support to youth through Individual Level Interventions. Among the 2,694 presenting problems noted in these interventions, about one-third (794) related to abuse, mental health, self-harm, and/or violence and trauma. Youth Program Staff have provided a significant increase in the annual number of Behavioral Health referrals compared to previous years, rising 71.43% from FY16 to FY18.
In FY2018, Senior Services provided 17,172 units of services to 1,026 unduplicated clients, of this 126 were new clients and 900 were repeat clients. This exceeded a Department goal of 500 patrons. Additionally, Senior Services served 271 unduplicated seniors 7,298 meals in FY2018. Through programming, which included an average of 66 monthly events, Senior Services reached a total of 755 seniors with 9,874 units of service.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them? 
The need for services at COH is increasingly greater than current staff capacity. COH clients present with complex issues, such as trauma, and require intensive services. At times COH staff are the only resource for these clients, and they present multiple challenges including mental health, substance use, social isolation, economic hardship, homelessness or unstable housing, family conflict, etc. on top of perhaps dealing with societal stigma and concerns about how to live with healthy gender and sexual identities. Also, public expression of hate and stigma against the LGBTQ population have recently risen. Societal stigma and oppression intensifies challenges in how the LGBTQ community is facing their daily lives. Trauma is triggered, and need for help increases. The safe space the Center has created is critical to defending these uncertain times and ensuring that the change that has been created continues to thrive and that the population it represents is counted and recognized. Despite these challenges, COH will continue to be a catalyst and expand its reach through community partnerships and competing for grant funding opportunities that will move the LGBTQ community forward, and help create a world that is more inclusive and supportive of human differences.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field?
LGBTQ Youth: According to Chapin Hall’s study, Voices for Youth Count, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer young adults are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their non-LGBTQ peers. They are also at greater risk for experiencing high levels of hardship, including higher rates of assault, of exchanging sex for basic needs, and of early death. Young adults (18-25) who identify as LGBTQ experienced homelessness at more than twice the rate of their non-LGBTQ peers. Black LGBTQ youth, especially young men, had the highest rates of homelessness. COH is a member of the All Chicago CoC, provides housing, and is striving to add more housing through an application to HUD and the City of Chicago Department of Public Health.
HIV and Aging: Aging with HIV/AIDS is difficult. Many HIV-infected people, now in their 50s and 60s, who have lived for years with HIV under control, are developing aging-related conditions — heart, liver and kidney disease, certain cancers and frailty, for example — at a rate significantly higher than uninfected people of the same age. COH recently submitted a grant application to Gilead Sciences to provide a new program to help counteract these issues for Seniors 55+.
Increased access to Free Behavioral Health Services for LGBTQ individuals: Youth Program Staff have provided a significant increase in the annual number of Behavioral Health referrals compared to previous years, rising 71.43% from FY16 to FY18. From July 2017 through April 2018, COH’s HIV testing program referred 131 clients to behavioral health services. COH’s Behavioral Health Department is a critical resource in the community.
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field? 
Be patient, listen to the community while paying attention to availability and trends in funding streams and respond with compassion and action. Also, take time for self-care.
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals? 
Funders and supporters can best help Center on Halsted by spreading the word about the Center’s programs and services to those who may benefit which assists us in achieving greater visibility and impact. Further, unrestricted grant funding opportunities are an incredible way for the organization to achieve its funding and strategic priorities.

Selected Media Mentions
Windy City Times, “Successful WERQ Job Fair Takes Place at Center on Halsted”
Chicago Defender, African-American Program Managers at Center on Halsted Educate and Enlighten the Black LGBTQ Community”
ABC7 News Chicago, “Center on Halsted provides safe space to talk about bullying”
Windy City Times Vanessa Sheridan helps trans community at Center on Halsted”
Chicago Tribune, “Lakeview to be future home of first affordable building for senior LGBT”