Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Promises in Early Care and Education

by Sara Slaughter, Director, Education Program

"What makes America exceptional isn't just the size of our economy or our influence around the globe. [It's] the promise we make to our children; the idea that no matter who they are, what they look like, where they start, how much their parents earn, they can make it if they try. It’s the essential promise of America -- that where you start should not and will not determine how far you can go."
-- President Obama, December 10, 2014

On Wednesday, December 10, President Obama hosted a White House Summit on Early Care and Education. At the event, President Obama announced new federal and private sector investments in early childhood totaling $1 billion.

"This issue is bigger than politics," President Obama said. "It’s an American issue."

The Obama administration will be investing $750 million from federal resources to early care and education, which includes $226 million to eighteen states under the Preschool Development Grants program. As one of the winning states, Illinois will receive a $20 million grant in 2014, renewable for three additional years. 


In addition to these federal investments, corporate and philanthropic organizations from across the nation will devote over $330 million in new funding. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Grand Victoria Foundation and the Irving Harris Foundation are coming together to invest at least $7 million in new funds to better our children’s early learning experiences. The McCormick Foundation has committed approximately $2 million in new investments to leverage federal investments in 2015.

There is widespread consensus that investing in high-quality early care and education yields one of the highest returns on investment we can make. That is one of the reasons this issue has enjoyed bi-partisan support for State investments in an early childhood system that values high-quality services for pregnant women and children from birth to age eight and their families. A national survey conducted by the First Five Years Fund showed that 71% of voters – including 60% of Republicans – support increased federal investments in early care and education. Effectively leveraging public dollars to expand high-quality, comprehensive early learning programs and services will result in the highest quality care and services for the country’s most vulnerable families. Together, we can ensure that all children, especially those at most risk, have access to high-quality, comprehensive early childhood programs that support their families and prepare them for success in school and in life. 


Monday, December 8, 2014

Illinois Voters Voice Strong Support for Civic Education Requirements

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar, Robert R. McCormick Foundation

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute (PSPPI) conducted its annual statewide poll from September 23 through October 15, 2014. The poll included three questions pertaining to civic education which mirror recommendations of the Illinois Task Force on Civic Education that would require legislative action by the Illinois General Assembly. They encompass a required civics or government course for high school graduation, along with student service projects in both middle and high school.

Based on a poll of 1,006 registered voters across Illinois, and with a margin of error of plus or minus three-percent, PSPPI found broad support for these recommended civic education requirements. The high school civics course polled best, with more than three-quarters of respondents favoring it strongly (56.6%; see Figure 1) or somewhat (22.9%).

Figure 1: Would you favor or oppose a proposal to require all Illinois high school students to take or pass a civics or government course in order to graduate?

More than two-thirds of survey respondents strongly (45.1%; see Figure 2) or somewhat (22.7%) favored a required service project for high school graduation. Support fell slightly for a similar requirement at the middle school level (33.8% favored strongly and 22.5% somewhat).


Figure 2: Would you favor or oppose a proposal to require all Illinois students to complete a community service project in order to complete middle of high school?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#GivingTuesday, a Day for Giving and Community

by Jim Struthers, Chief Development Officer

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday.

The holiday season is upon us. As we embrace the hustle and bustle of shopping, decorating and celebrating with family and friends, it’s also a time to reflect on how fortunate we are. We must also keep in mind those who have not been as fortunate and how it is our responsibility to help those in need of a helping hand. That’s where #GivingTuesday comes in.

The third annual #GivingTuesday on December 2 is a national day dedicated to giving back. This year, the day will celebrate generosity, encouraging donors to give what they can. 


The Robert R. McCormick Foundation is in the midst of its annual holiday campaign with seven of our Fund Partners across the nation. In Chicago, WGN Radio Neediest Kids Fund and the Chicago Tribune Charities are raising funds for those in need across Chicagoland. The Los Angeles Times Family Fund is making a difference in the fight against illiteracy. Denver Post Charities, Orlando Sentinel Family Fund and the Sun Sentinel Children’s Fund are improving the lives of adults, children and families in their communities. And on Long Island, Newsday Charities promotes the well-being of those less fortunate.

Giving to the Funds of the McCormick Foundation presents a unique way to make your charitable dollar go even further. For every donation, the Foundation will match it $0.50 on the $1.00, one of the few nonprofits to do so. All campaign and administrative expenses are paid, meaning 100% is granted to qualified local nonprofits working to help the disadvantaged in their communities.

Visit the McCormick Foundation’s website, as well as our Facebook page to learn more. Be sure to follow along the #GivingTuesday conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag “#GivingTuesday and #WeMatchHalf.

This #GivingTuesday, remember: “No gift goes further. And stays closer.” Support the Funds of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Monday, November 17, 2014

50 Years of Head Start

by Sara Slaughter, Director, Education Program

In honor of Head Start’s 50th Anniversary and Head Start Awareness Month, the National Head Start Association highlighted one of its alumni each weekday in October. They began the month with Head Start’s current learners and conclude the celebration with the Head Start Class of 1965. The alumni stories exemplified the short-term and long-term benefits Head Start has provided our nation’s most vulnerable children and families. You can view all blog posts at:

Most of us will celebrate our big 5-0 by sharing memories and stories with friends and colleagues. Head Start is no different. In honor of its 50 year anniversary, the National Head Start Association is sharing stories of Head Start Alums like Aida Conroy. In her endearing and informative blog, Aida shares how Head Start nurtured her from a curious toddler, to a young professional. She is now a member of the prestigious Teach for America and teaching the next wave of Head Start students. In a time of skepticism about government programs, isn't it refreshing to celebrate a program putting vulnerable children on a path to success! The following is an excerpt from NHSA’s blog, enjoy!

More Than Milk Cartons

by Aida Conroy

Aida Conroy, a Head Start alum, is currently a 2013 Teach For America corps member teaching at Casa Infantil, a Head Start center of Casa Central in her family’s neighborhood in Chicago.

Twenty milk cartons arrive in my Head Start classroom for breakfast, lunch, and snack each day. For petite, clumsy fingers, still building fine motor skills, these cartons are quite difficult to open. All my students know the milk carton rule: in our classroom we attempt to open our cartons independently at least once. My children try any new way they can cook up! Only after trying can a student ask a friend or teacher for assistance.

Because they face this challenge three times each day, my students have come up with ingenious strategies to open these cartons--far more interesting than my own pinch and pull method. There is “the pinky-pull,” where my students dig their tiniest finger to create a hole before ripping the opening; there is the brute force approach, when students use both hands to push up on the carton; and my personal favorite is when students pull off all four tabs to create square cups.

It is one of my favorite parts of the day, watching them think through new techniques as their fumbling fingers push and pull at the carton openings. This reminds me of when I conquered the same task.

The accomplishment of opening my milk carton for the first time by myself is one of my earliest memories. It happened at Head Start when I was in preschool. I used one hand to grip the bottom of the carton while my thumb and index finger pushed and pulled the tabs. I shrieked with delight when I was able to pull out the spout. Just like my students, I had tried and failed to open my milk carton each day, three times a day for months. The pleasure of this accomplishment made my chocolate milk seem as if it had never tasted so good.

This little moment from my classroom illuminates for me how my own experience attending Head Start as a child influences my hopes and dreams for the Head Start students I teach today. While many of us can recall the delight in motor-skill mastery, it’s the so-called ‘soft’-skills I particularly enjoy teaching. I attempt to equip my students with the most crucial skills for life--the ability to give and receive love, to respect others, to speak from the heart, to listen intently, to explore and discover, to fail and always to try again. Teaching these social emotional skills makes me most proud to be a Head Start teacher.

To continue reading Aida’s interesting Head Start blog please follow this link:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Got Your 6 Storytellers

by Megan Daley, Communications Intern

Veterans have so much to teach us, about loyalty, respect, honor, duty. The freedoms we take for granted every day: from planting our feet firmly on the ground as we begin our day to enjoying that first sip of morning coffee. Active members of the military, as well as veterans, ensure our little moments of freedom. All they need us to do is listen.

The “Got Your 6” campaign hosted a Storytellers event, a sort of “TED Talks” in partnership with NPR’s StoryCorps in New York City. One of the speakers of the event was Eli Williamson, Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s director of the Veterans Program. The event brought together 10 veterans to tell their stories, hoping to start a conversation and empower veterans.


The veterans featured in the talkback were from all different walks of life, including a musician, entrepreneur and civic leader. But, all of those who spoke had a military background and were now thriving in their chosen fields. John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, attended the event. The talks, including Eli’s discussion, were released to the public in association with partners like MTV and HBO. MTV also featured a documentary that followed four post-9/11 veterans on Veterans Day, November 11.

Here is the link to watch Eli’s discussion, “Can you see the existential threats?” as well as seven other videos recorded for the “Got Your 6 Storytellers” event this year.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Meeting Veterans at the Plate

by Don Cooke, Senior Vice-President of Philanthropy

As the World Series winds down, we at the McCormick Foundation are proud of our partnership with Major League Baseball to help veterans re-integrate into their communities. Our program, Welcome Back Veterans, was celebrated during the first game of the World Series in Kansas City, and fans at the game and watching on television saw wonderful public service announcements honoring our returning warriors.


The partnership between Major League Baseball and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation has generated programs at eight major medical universities that support veterans with post-traumatic stress and brain injuries, the signature wounds of those who recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Located in Boston, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, North Carolina, and Michigan, these programs reach out to the veteran community and provide treatment for vets and family members. They also provide training opportunities for other service providers so that our warriors facing challenges can become vital members of their communities. It is privilege to work with Major League Baseball and to serve those who have served our country. 


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Child Trauma and Prevention Unified Outcomes Project Update

by Molly Baltman, Assistant Director/Grantmaking

This blog is an update of "Launch of McCormick Foundation's Child Trauma and Prevention Unified Outcomes Project", posted on July 8, 2013.

Due to a lack of standardization of outcomes in the field of home visiting, parenting programs, and child trauma, the Communities program launched a capacity building project in 2013 in partnership with 30 grantees funded through Chicago Tribune Charities. The goal of the project was to determine appropriate data to use in evaluating program impact, increase capacity of organizations to use data for decision-making and quality improvement and allow for benchmarking and cross-agency learning through grantee convening.

Now, after more than a year, we are seeing the results of work on behalf of our grantees and staff. The short-term results of and learnings from the project are as follows:
  1. Broadened the standardized data we collect beyond client-level behavior changes (shown through evidence-based tools) to include best practices and program level indicators.
  2. Developed a new application and rubric to evaluate programs that take into account grantee input and guidance, and emphasizes theory of change.
  3. Provided evaluation capacity building of grantees through learning communities, training, technical assistance and evaluation coaching. Grantees drove the content of the cross-learning convening, evaluation coaching, and group trainings.

The next phase of the project is to continue providing opportunities for cross-learning, evaluation coaching and training. We will carry on discussions with public and private funders regarding interest in collaborating, and are partnering with Loyola University to study the impact of the evaluation coaching model on the individual grantees involved.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Revelation for Disabled Vets

by Jeff Reiter, Senior Manager of Communications

In June, Cantigny Golf was pleased to receive RevelationGolf’s Humanitarian Award for its work helping veterans through their rehabilitation programs at Cantigny. Elk Grove-based nonprofit RevelationGolf is small but it does big work, especially with disabled veterans.

Cantigny Golf has been a RevelationGolf partner since 2010, conducting monthly clinics for veterans with disabilities. The clinics serve veterans from Edward Hines Jr. Veteran Affairs Hospital in Maywood and Jesse Brown Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Chicago.

Cantigny’s head golf professional, Patrick Lynch, works with veterans personally and considers it an honor. The partnership with RevelationGolf shows once again that golf is more than just a game – it can be transformative.

Some of the veterans are just getting back to golf while others are new to the game. Some participants are blind or struggle with PTSD. Many rely on modified and adaptive equipment. But for all players, RevelationGolf is proving that golf can be highly therapeutic.

Without RevelationGolf, many veterans might never benefit from the euphoria of experiencing the game — something that looks so simple to most of us but is potentially life-changing for others. At the very least, a little time on the range with the team from RevelationGolf can bring joy to a veteran’s day.

In addition to veterans, RevelationGolf programs serve children and adults with cancer or a disability and at-risk girls ages 7 to 17. To find out more of RevelationGolf, please visit

Monday, September 22, 2014

Preschool Attendance Matters

by Stacy Ehrlich and Julia Gwynne

Nationally, there has been a great effort to increase funding for early education programs to increase enrollment of at-risk children into high-quality programs, such as Head Start. However, recent research highlights that once children are enrolled in preschool, they must also regularly attend to reap the benefits.

A study conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools, found that preschool students who are chronically absent – meaning they miss 10 percent or more of enrolled school days – have lower levels of math, letter recognition, and social-emotional skills by the time they enter kindergarten than children who attend regularly. In the 2011-12 school year, 45 percent of 3-year-olds and more than one-third of 4-year-olds were missing this much school – equivalent to three weeks. Moreover, for a portion of these students, preschool is the beginning of a pattern that continues well into the elementary school years.

The reasons for absences vary, but health of the child and family members is the leading reason why preschoolers miss school. Some families struggle with logistical obstacles in getting their children to school, including transportation and child care.

Poor school attendance, beginning in the earliest of years, is one of the first indicators that a child may be struggling at home and at school. It is a call for individual outreach by teachers and program staff to families, to understand their particular struggles and barriers to school attendance. Expressing to families that program staff care can be a monumental first step in redirecting a child onto the path of success.

But early attendance is not just an indicator of a problem. It can be a powerful lever for putting children on a path toward later success, including better attendance and better grades in third grade and beyond. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Six Major Civic Lessons for Illinois

by Dr. Shawn Healy, Civic Learning & Engagement Scholar

Today, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), convened by the McCormick Foundation, announces nine new Democracy Schools. Since 2006, the ICMC has recognized over 30 high schools throughout Illinois who have demonstrated deep commitments to civic learning across the curriculum, in extracurricular activities and through student voice in school governance.

During this time, we have learned six major lessons about sustaining and institutionalizing high-quality, school-based civic learning in Illinois:
  1. These efforts must target cities, suburbs and rural areas to reach the ever-diverse student population. Our democracy’s health is dependent upon equitable civic learning opportunities.
  2. Civic learning is not merely the concern of civics and government teachers, but the entire school faculty.
  3. Principals should lead a vision for their schools’ civic missions and create space for their faculties to align civic learning with Common Core.
  4. Teachers across disciplines need ongoing access to professional development opportunities emphasizing both civic content and pedagogies.
  5. Schools must bring community partners into their buildings to work with students and teachers, but also send students out in service of their communities.
  6. Schools should practice the democracy they teach by incorporating all stakeholders’ voices in their governance, modeling effective civic engagement and nurturing its development among students.

The ICMC is growing a self-sustaining network of Democracy Schools committed to students’ civic development. This network increasingly reflects the state’s geographic, racial, ethnic, and economic diversity. Through rigorous research and evaluation, its practices prove that civic learning can flourish in every corner of Illinois, and among all student populations.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Students Need Mentors

Letter originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times "Letters to the Editor" on September 12, 2014.

Can a struggling student at a school in one of Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods be successful?

We believe the answer is “yes” and there’s research now that shows the way. Obstacles can be addressed if students have a mentor. A mentor can model good decision-making and problem-solving skills that can have a huge impact on a young person’s life. Mentors serve as living testaments to the rewards of staying on the right track, and helping students visualize a bright future.

The need is big. Some 400,000 kids began a new school year in Chicago this month. Most of them lack sufficient economic support. About 85 percent of Chicago Public Schools students receive free or reduced-price meals.


These kids often face some big hurdles, such as housing, incessant hunger and one-parent-families stressed by abuse or incarceration. Then there is the neighborhood violence in Chicago.

A rigorous 2013 study, “Preventing Youth Violence and Dropout: A Randomized Field Experiment,” by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER) found that participation in Chicago’s “Becoming a Man” program reduced violent-crime arrests by 44 percent and non-violent arrests by 36 percent over the course of the school year. A key component of “Becoming a Man” is mentoring, and NBER also was able to project markedly higher rates of high school graduation for these students as a result of their increased academic engagement.

Many groups coordinate successful mentoring programs in the Chicago area. City Year Chicago reports positive outcomes when placing AmeriCorps members as mentors and tutors in schools to provide the consistency and support students need to feel engaged in learning and invested in their futures. Corps members are now in 21 schools throughout the city. Last year, 62 percent of targeted students improved their behavior assessments and 77 percent showed improvements in their academic assessment scores.


Mentoring is a key ingredient to ensuring Chicago youth can see past the violence to a life as educated, informed and engaged citizens. Every child needs someone to emulate if they are to develop their potential to become leaders and be their own best advocates. This means Chicago needs a surge of caring adults.

It’s time to prioritize an approach that works. We need more people, especially young adults, to step forward as volunteer mentors and join with the city’s philanthropic community to expand support for our at-risk students.

Lisa Morrison Butler is the executive director of City Year Chicago

David D. Hiller is the President & CEO of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Monday, August 11, 2014

My World at 14

by Francisco Martinez, Communications Associate

My world, at the age of 14, was very small. Before high school, I never ventured outside of Edgewater, a neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. Within the two-mile radius surrounding my home, all I knew was my family, friends and school. When it came time to choosing a high school –a privilege given to a few in the CPS magnet schools process— it created an interesting outcome.

In my mind, selecting a high school, it was simple. Go to the best school (academically) without going too far “south.” With that criterion in mind, I decided on Lane Tech High School. The other schools that had accepted me were either outside my comfort zone or too far “south.” Looking back, I recognize that any of these schools would have been excellent choices. I often wonder how my high school experience would have been different had I taken another path.


I was still very nervous going to Lane Tech. During one of our first half days as freshmen, my new group of friends proposed going to lunch at a restaurant that was south of Fullerton Avenue just 1.5 miles from the campus. I didn’t know what to say. I nervously responded, “Why so far south?” The group, comprised of kids from all over Chicago, looked puzzled by my question. One of my friends finally asked me, “What is the farthest south you’ve ever been?” Embarrassed, I answered. My friends then laughed and proceeded to assure me everything would be fine and I would have the best sandwich of my life.

Recently, I had the privilege of sharing my high school experiences, including this story, with a group of kids from After-School All-Stars Chicago (ASAS). These kids were part of a summer program called STEM CampUS, which is one-week program that helps low-income Chicago Pubic School students transition from eighth grade into high school. 


Participating in the luncheon brought back so many memories of my early days at Lane Tech. During the luncheon, three Foundation employees, including McCormick Foundation President and CEO, David Hiller and myself, shared stories of our middle school and high school days, and how these experiences helped to shape who we are today. As I sat listening to the other’s stories, I couldn’t help but relate to the students in the room. Seeing them, reminded me of being an eighth grader going into my freshman year. Although unlike me, through ASAS, they all had an opportunity to be exposed to new borders and cultural experiences before entering high school.

It is my belief these first-hand experiences will translate into phenomenal opportunities and adventures, some of which they would have never seen as possibilities if it weren’t for ASAS. Kudos to them an all groups enriching students lives by opening their eyes and ears to the wonder of cultural and career exploration.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Indelible Imprints: Remembering Soldiers of World War I

by Paul Herbert, Executive Director, First Division Museum at Cantigny Park

In time for the observance of the 100th anniversary of World War I, Dr. Jeff Gusky launches a wonderful photo exhibit, The Hidden World of WWI. The exhibit reveals the folk art of World War I soldiers of all nations left in long-forgotten bunkers, fortifications and caves that Gusky has explored. Included are images from an abandoned root cellar at Cantigny, France, that once was occupied by doughboys of the US First Division. 


Former underground city beneath the trenches. Picardy, France.
© 2013, Jeffrey Gusky. All Rights Reserved. Jeffrey Gusky, c/o attorney at P.O. Box 2526, Addison, TX 75001-2526.


Gusky has discovered simple graffiti by soldiers who recorded their presence and their survival thus far, as well as elaborate evocative sculptures by soldiers who surely spent weeks or months underground. His work is two layers of art – the poignancy of the soldier art itself, and the excellence of his photographic images.


Carving reads 'Liberty leaving the world, September, 1917, a soldier of the 278, the disasters of the 20th Century, the sun of my youth'. Picardy, France.
© 2013, Jeffrey Gusky. All Rights Reserved. Jeffrey Gusky, c/o attorney at P.O. Box 2526, Addison, TX 75001-2526.

“[Soldiers] spent long hours recording indelible expressions of their humanity that are as fresh and powerful today as they were a century ago. The images are sometimes poignant and sometimes sad, but always deeply moving reminders that these men were not strange doughboys from old movies but modern people who were coping with the dehumanizing horrors of war in the same way that we would cope if faced these horrors today.” - Dr. Jeff Gusky

As the First Division Museum at Cantigny begins its observance of this momentous anniversary, this exhibit reminds us of the fundamental humanity of the millions who served on the Western Front. We encourage you to explore The Hidden World of WWI exhibit and remember them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chicago Sinfonietta: Daring, Defiant and Different

by Jeff Reiter, Senior Manager of Communications

The “orchestra like no other” will perform under the stars at Cantigny Park on August 9

Since its beginning in 1987, the mid-sized Chicago Sinfonietta has maintained a decidedly different vision of what an orchestra could and should be. Maestro Paul Freeman, an accomplished African American conductor, felt that orchestras should reflect the people and the values of the communities they serve. Maestro Mei-Ann Chen succeeded Freeman in 2011 and carries on this ideal with great passion. Today’s Chicago Woman this month named Chen among its “100 Women of Inspiration.”



The Sinfonietta is truly innovative, specializing in daring, one-of-a-kind performances. It promotes diversity, inclusion and innovative programming—values that we wholly embrace at Cantigny Park and throughout the McCormick Foundation.

Cantigny Park in Wheaton, the former estate of Robert R. McCormick, is pleased to welcome Chicago Sinfonietta on Saturday evening, August 9. The “Ravinia style” concert marks the Sinfonietta’s first visit to Cantigny and the orchestra’s first outdoor performance in the western suburbs.

The Cantigny concert, previewing of the Sinfonietta’s 2014-15 season, will include pioneering African American composer, Florence Price’s composition of, “Dances in the Canebreaks.” Patrons will also be treated to a selection of romantic suites from Ravel’s beloved “Carmen” and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ spirited “English Folk Song Suite.” The evening concludes with Antonín Dvořák’s lyrical and folk melody inspired “Symphony No. 8.”

Click here to learn more about this special performance and to purchase tickets.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Heart of Illinois Bounces Back After Devastation

by Terry Bibo, Tri-County Long Term Recovery Committee

More than 1,100 families lost their homes in Washington, IL alone when mammoth tornadoes struck Central Illinois on November 17.

The next morning, representatives of nearly 100 different groups – corporations, nonprofits and churches – gathered to react as one. 



This was by far the single largest natural disaster the area had ever seen but the communities were fortunate in that few people were home that morning. Only three lives were lost, though that is still too many. Everyone from carpenters to musicians (i.e. Styx and REO Speedwagon) to the Chicago Bears volunteered to help, laying the groundwork for a unified response.

The last nine months have been challenging for the communities impacted by the storms. While Washington sustained the most damage, two other neighboring communities were impacted as well – East Peoria and Pekin. Serving the specific needs of each community proved to be the greatest hurdle. 



Thanks to the Illinois Tornado Relief Effort that helped raise money for the affected communities, the Peoria Area Community Foundation was able to form the Tri-County Long Term Recovery (LTR) committee. The committee was created to ensure relief and recovery was a seamless operation for those impacted as well as for volunteers.

We are excited to announce that the Long Term Recovery Center will be opening its doors on July 18 to assist residents and provide information regarding recovery efforts. In addition, the facility is centrally located and can be easily accessed by surrounding areas. The 3,000-square-foot office has ample space for caseworkers and clients.

“The Long Term Recovery Center is a much needed asset to Central Illinois since we are just beginning to see some of those deeper needs of the communities,” said LTR chairman Jim Fassino.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Future of Redistricting Reform in Illinois

by David Hiller, President and CEO

As you may have heard, the Yes! For Independent Maps initiative will not be moving forward for the November 4 ballot. This is very disappointing to the thousands of citizens across the political spectrum in Illinois who were united in supporting redistricting reform. 

These citizens recognized the need to take the district maps out of the hands of the political insiders, and turn the job over to an independent commission.

The importance of this reform is demonstrated by the aggressive attacks on it made by the political forces entrenched by the current system. If citizens win, they lose.

Another lesson is that Illinois is ready for reform. Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans supported the reform effort, and polls indicated overwhelming voter support had the initiative been allowed on the ballot. The grounds Judge Mary Mikva cited in her legal decision for keeping the initiative off the ballot are technical, but give hope that a revised proposal could pass constitutional muster.

There is ample time to make redistricting reform a reality well before the next census in 2020. We should continue to build on the momentum of this year’s campaign, and ensure that this gets done in the next election cycle.

Meanwhile, stay engaged:
  • Register and vote in the upcoming November elections
  • Stay tuned in on the progress of reform efforts at the Change Illinois website
  • Follow these efforts with the McCormick Foundation on Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Museums as Cradles of Democracy

by Courtney Brouwer, Assistant Director of Civic Learning

"Every museum, whatever its mission statement may be, is a cradle of democracy" – Eric Liu, author, civic entrepreneur and founder of Citizen University

Just recently, I had the privilege of organizing a luncheon at the American Alliance of Museums annual conference that was co-sponsored by the McCormick Foundation. Captivating keynote speaker Eric Liu, who once served as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and now spearheads the Seattle-based Citizen University, underscored the crucial role that museums play in nurturing democracy and promoting what he calls the art of powerful citizenship. He called on an audience of museum professionals to acknowledge their institutions—whether they interpret collections of history, science, art, or animals—as cradles of democracy that foster meaningful participation in public life.

Eric noted that documentation status is entirely extraneous to his conception of citizenship, a regrettably politicized and therefore polarizing term. Instead, in its most ideal form, the word evokes for him a sense of commitment to our communities, where the spirit of fellowship thrives. He posits that museums nurture this spirit by illuminating the interconnectivity of our lives and commonality of our concerns.

Using metaphor to powerful effect, Eric likened museums to places of worship. Just as cathedrals offer refuge for reflection and communing with something greater than ourselves, so, too, do museums offer sanctuary from the pressures and mundane concerns of everyday life. They remind us that we are connected across generations, inheritors of the past and stewards of the future.

I encourage you to watch Eric’s remarks and join the dialogue we began that day. What do you think museums should be doing—or doing better—to realize their potential as cradles of democracy?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Just What is News Literacy?

by Phil Zepeda, Director of Communications

Where do you get your daily dose of news? Is it on your morning drive into work, perhaps reading the paper just minutes after it’s thrown onto your porch, or would it be on your smart phone or tablet? Many of us feel comfortable getting updated about the world around us through blogs, newsletters or social media. But depending on where you get your news, you might not be building your own news literacy strength.

A growing sector of the U.S. population does not distinguish between professional journalists, information spinners and citizen voices. Technological advancements in concert with the 24/7 news cycle serve to further exacerbate this challenging situation. This is where having a personal commitment to becoming news literate is critically important.

News literacy is defined as the ability to use critical thinking skills to judge the reliability and credibility of news reports and information sources. It enables people to become smarter consumers and creators of fact-based information. It helps in the development of informed perspectives and the navigational skills to become effective community citizens in a digitally-connected society.

Research coordinated by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program shows that news literacy programs provide:
  • A frame of reference to distinguish fact from fiction, opinion or propaganda.
  • An understanding of the First Amendment, the role of a free, independent media and the importance of journalistic values.
  • A curiosity to seek information and better understand communities, country and international affairs.
  • Help in navigating the myriad sources of digital information in a more skeptical and informed manner.
  • A foundation for exercising civility, respect and care in the exchange of information.

These priorities are especially important to youth as they seek to collect, analyze, and produce credible information. Thus, to be news literate is to build knowledge, think critically, act civilly and participate in the democratic process.

Among the top goals for news literacy programs are to educate and energize citizens—especially students—about the value of news and assist them in developing a framework for assessing information. They help citizens increase their ability to find critical information and develop a sense of ethics as digital citizens and media makers. It is vital to instill these belief in our youth, in new Americans, and those in under-served populations with the ultimate goal of more engaged, informed communities.

News literacy programs, like the McCormick Foundation’s Why News Matters project, also emphasize the importance of news and information, the value of reliable sources, and appreciation of First Amendment freedoms. The organization expects to invest as much as $6 million in the initiative through 2015. The investment builds on the strong news literacy youth and teacher training programs that have been the core of the Foundation’s journalism funding since 2009.

Most of us will not find ourselves in a news literacy program, but we can still embrace the responsibility we have to think more critically and evaluate the information we hear, we see and we share. Certainly media organizations, high schools, universities, two-year colleges, community organizations, and libraries all have a role to play but so do each of us.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Life After Youth Media

by Jenny Choi, Journalism Program Officer

On Tuesday, April 29th, 2014, over 100 stakeholders in youth development and youth media convened over breakfast to hear and discuss the results of a study conducted by Heartland Alliance’s Social Impact Research Center, “Life After Youth Media: Insights about Program Influence into Adulthood” at the Union League Club of Chicago.

The event highlighted the release of the second part of a two-part report outlining the landscape of Chicago youth media organizations, and the findings of interviewing over 200 alumni of McCormick-funded Chicago youth media programs.

Laura Washington MC’ed the event, and Renee Ferguson was the keynote speaker, delivering highlights of the study.

Ferguson prefaced the highlights by sharing her own experiences growing up in a segregated Alabama in the '50's and '60's, and explaining how journalism and writing saved her life as a teen. She made the connection to the recent incidents of youth violence in Chicago communities and how the work of youth media programs continues to be critical and relevant today.

The study showed that developing youth media skills compliments learning in other contexts such as communicating clearly, critical thinking and becoming “news literate.” Other highlights included:
  • 90 percent of alumni experienced an increase in self-confidence, especially with regard to having a voice, as a direct result of participating in a youth media program
  • 80 percent of alumni report an increased ability to think critically and independently
  • 76 percent of alumni understand issues facing their communities as a direct result of youth media programs.

The program then featured three youth media alumni who told their individual stories:

Whitney Smith (CTVN) interned with CTVN as a sophomore at Young Women’s Charter School and continued on through high school to eventually become hired by CTVN as a Teaching Artist: “CTVN taught me I can be who I want to be instead of what society tells me I should be.”

Nader Ihmoud (Columbia Links) began his speech by taking a “selfie” of himself and the audience, beaming with pride. Because of his experience with C-Links as a Lane Tech student, he is now pursuing a journalism/sports broadcasting degree at Columbia College and secured his first freelance journalism job.

J’mme Love (Free Spirit Media) talked about feeling like an “outsider” and being in an alternative high school with not much direction or purpose. His experience in Free Spirit Media “motivated me to be a contributing member of society.”

The program then opened up to the audience for a Q & A session to talk about next steps. Among the audience members was David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, who explained that “in a large decentralized system like CPS, the authority resides with the principals…” suggesting that youth media groups should seek principals to champion their work, and reach students at their schools.

Vitale also said CPS used to push hard mostly on reading and math but more recently has launched science/tech and art initiatives. In the last year and a half an Arts Planning committee has met to reinvest in arts curriculum. Vitale noted that media was missing in the arts planning committee agenda, which he promised to include at the next Arts Planning meeting, scheduled to meet later that same day.

The youth in the audience suggested programs should reach youth early on to expose youth to more enriched news content instead of entertainment news only, so youth “can stop being told what’s cool” and can begin to think more independently and understand “how society operates.” Youth media groups also need to “make [programs] fun.”

In closing, Renee Ferguson, Laura Washington and Journalism Program Director Clark Bell implored the audience members to leave their contact information on notecards provided at each table, and to make a pledge to support and expand the work of youth media organizations. “The children will not wait,” Ferguson said, “We will have a role on young people’s lives in a way we don’t know yet, and this is one way to do that.”

Clark Bell jumpstarted the collective pledge by presenting the Chicago Youth Voices Network with a $50,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program for the youth media collaborative’s capacity-building activities.

Stronger Communities Equal a Safer Illinois

by David Hiller, President & CEO

This March, we helped sponsor a symposium, "The $2 Billion Question: Can Illinois Improve Public Safety and Spend Less on Incarceration?" at the Union League Club of Chicago. Elected officials, business leaders, policy makers and funders took part in a discussion that addressed the critical issue of reducing incarceration rates and improving safety in Illinois.

Keeping in mind that the population of Illinois is more than 12.5 million, here are Illinois' facts:
  • Approximately 70 percent of prisoners are jailed for non-violent crimes
  • Approximately 48,000 adults are incarcerated annually
  • 3.6 percent of our state budget ($1.3 billion out of $35.3 billion) is spent on incarcerated adults in state and local jails, which accounts for approximately $27,000 per inmate.
  • 48 percent of inmates in state prisons don't have a high school diploma or GED

These startling statistics are rooted in decades of tough-on-crime legislation, the war on drugs, and harsh sentencing practices, rather than prevention efforts. They have failed. These practices have not only led to a record number of people being locked up, they have also drained Illinois of vital resources, while having only a minimal effect on the crime rate.

However, there is work being done to reverse these trends and redeploy funding to prevention programs that help individuals stay away from crime and promote stronger, safer communities.

Through the McCormick Foundation’s work with local organizations, we know that an investment in high-quality early care and education is a critical component of public safety. Research shows that children who participate in quality preschool programs are 20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or be incarcerated as a young adult. Organizations such as Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois are using hard-nosed research that illustrates proven strategies on how to prevent children from becoming criminals, and sharing that information with policy makers, the media and the public.

Another key ingredient for building safer communities is developing individuals with the necessary skills they need to gain and maintain employment. Individuals with barriers due to lack of skills, minimal or no job experience, or ex-offender status, have a harder time securing jobs. Heartland Human Care Services’ Chicago FarmWorks program trains formerly-incarcerated and homeless adults to work in the urban landscaping and food production industries. These opportunities give individuals valuable roles in their communities and keep them from reentering a world of crime.

Even though there are a number of successful organizations throughout Illinois, there is more work to be done such as increasing funding in prevention, education and workforce development programs.

We all must take responsibility and help strengthen our communities for the long haul. Here is what you can do:
  • Fund quality early care and education programs
  • Participate and invest in prevention programs for youth, such as mentoring, sports and after-school programs
  • Invest in workforce development programs

While a good deal of work will be required in Springfield, it must start with each of us.


"I Am the Guy You Play Later: Sheriffs," Chiefs and Prosecutors Urge America to Cut Crime by Investing Now in High-Quality Early Education and Care." Report by: Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, p.1

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee's Review of Alternatives for Non-Violent Offenders, 2010, p.1

Monday, May 5, 2014

Support For Vets & Military Families

by Don Cooke, Senior Vice President of Philanthropy

On April 30, 2014, thirty (30) philanthropic organizations and corporations, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation announced pledges totaling more than $170 million, over the next five years, to support veterans and military families. The Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge creates a community of funders and builds momentum for programs that will support service members, veterans and their families, in local communities as the country draws down from twelve years of war. Read about the pledge.

Related Stories

VIDEO: First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden talk about the new Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge

VIDEO: Don Cooke talks about The Great Transition Home

BLOG: Don's perspective on The New Greatest Generation: Helping Veterans Return Home

Monday, April 28, 2014

Teaching Future Generations About War

by Paul Herbert, Executive Director, First Division Museum at Cantigny Park

On April 26 and 27, 40 top-notch teachers from 22 states assembled at the First Division Museum at Cantigny for a conference on modern war, the ninth such conference jointly produced by the First Division Museum and the Foreign Policy Research Institute of Philadelphia. Experts from across the country covered drones, robots and digital communications; Desert Storm; peacekeeping and humanitarian relief; counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism; nuclear weapon and missile proliferation; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the status of our all-volunteer force. Why should educators have a better understanding around these matters? Military affairs have affected our country profoundly for centuries and will continue to do so. Young people should know something about military history and affairs.

Public familiarity with things military is also crucial to a democracy that does not fear its soldiers, as so many societies have for millennia. Russia’s torment of Ukraine worries nearby fledgling democracies and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. Syria smolders in brutal civil war. The futures of Iraq and Afghanistan teeter between hope and vicious autocracy. North Korea plays wildly with its rockets and nuclear ambitions, threatening regional allies, as does Iran. China unilaterally declares an air defense zone over international airspace. Al Qaeda spin-offs proclaim eternal hostility to the West and seek ways to strike again. Hostility to democratic ideals and a willingness, even eagerness, to use violence remain difficult facts of life. "We the People" must still make good choices in our common defense, and that means that military history and affairs must be part of our education.

Presentations from the earlier conferences can be found at: American Military History: A Resource Guide for Teachers and Students.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The New Greatest Generation: Helping Veterans Return Home

by Don Cooke, Senior VP of Philanthropy

Our nation is at a critical crossroads with our veterans. We can follow the post-Vietnam approach and turn our backs on those who fought an unpopular war, yet who were forever affected by that conflict and by their homecoming. The Vietnam approach led to soldiers’ shame, disaffection with society, and to the startling and unacceptable fact that some 25% of those homeless in America today are Vietnam veterans.

Or we can take a different road – we can welcome our military people back to our communities with gratitude and with essential help re-integrating into their communities where they can be invaluable assets. I have been asked many times where the responsibility of the government (which sent young men and women into harm’s way) ends and our collective community responsibility begins. This is a very good question, but veterans are not different from others in our communities we help with jobs, education, healthcare, and housing. Communities already work to help those most in need, and veterans are our neighbors too.

Veterans need jobs when they come home. They have unique wounds – some physical and some invisible such as post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Also, more warriors have families than in previous conflicts, and multiple and lengthy deployments have put enormous pressure on spouses, children and the family unit. It is not only the warriors who serve; their families serve also.

A growing number of foundations and corporations are committed to the mission of helping veterans with the difficult transition from military to civilian life. The issue is one of national proportion and the numbers are enormous (estimates, for example, of 300,000 returning warriors with Post Traumatic Stress), but our work over the past few years has demonstrated that the solutions are delivered locally. Each community is different – some have large active-duty bases, other regions are home to Reservists and National Guard personnel – and the challenges faced by our warriors are complex. Many do not sign up for their benefits when they leave military life. Many try to sign up but are frustrated by the complexities of the bureaucracy. Many are too far from VA offices and services.

We have demonstrated that regional public-private partnerships are essential in making a smooth transition for the veteran. These partnerships include federal, state and local government agencies, non-profits, philanthropies and the business community. And there are lessons learned that can be applied in communities across the country:
  • We need to employ peer-to-peer support and mentoring models that work with each veteran, building their trust and providing ongoing support and advice as each navigates a new world outside of the military.
  • The challenges of vets are interconnected and cannot be dealt with in silos. For example, having meaningful employment and supporting the family are essential in ongoing mental health. We need to look at the “whole” vet and wrap them in the systems and support that make their transition successful.
  • In order to reach the large number of returning veterans, we need a collaborative and coherent network of nonprofits providing services from health to education and jobs, to family counseling and legal issues. This network must function in concert with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to provide the best results for our veterans.

Regional systems that attract, engage, and help veterans can be established in every community.

Many veterans have unique challenges, but they are unique people who can bring great value to our workplace and to our communities. They have a commitment to service, and they will continue to serve after their military life. They have skills in organization, logistics, and teamwork that many people never develop, and they have exhibited leadership at an early age.

It is in our best interest as a country that we invest in the veterans’ transition from military to civilian life so that these unique assets help our neighborhoods, our communities, and our businesses.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Let's Play Taps for the Old Maps

by David Hiller, President and CEO

Yes for Independent Maps recently posted a great YouTube video that uses comedy to illustrate the farce of the current methods for establishing voting districts in Illinois.


Hopefully this “backroom redistricting” video can help bring greater visibility to an issue that has needed reform in the Illinois legislature for a long time. The essence of this piece shows how a small group of elected officials gathers every 10 years to draw their own voting districts, ensuring the status quo remains in effect indefinitely. The video nails just how cynical this practice is and shows a pathway to reform.

There is strong, growing bipartisan support to create an independent commission to draw fair district maps within Illinois. The McCormick Foundation is supporting this important work, and I am doing so personally as well. We need to end this hidden practice that serves only politicians trying to keep themselves in office, and contributes to the polarization and grid-lock we see in Springfield.

Map reform in Illinois can take this out of the hands of the politicians like many other states have done. It creates an independent commission, with open and transparent processes that will help us keep “communities of interest” intact, rather than politicians in gerrymandered districts.

But to begin making these needed changes, we’ll need your active support. This ballot initiative needs 300,000 petition signatures by May 4 to get a proposed amendment to the Illinois constitution onto the November 4 ballot.

What can each of us do?

I am carrying the petition form with me, collecting signatures from folks I encounter in the course of the day.

We are going to face opposition from those who enjoy things the way they are. Nonetheless, I’m truly hopeful that this effort will allow us to live in a state with voting districts that look less like “toenail clippers” and “manatees,” and more like areas defined by citizens and communities.

Monday, March 17, 2014

In Memoriam: Staff Sergeant Walter D. Ehlers

by Paul Herbert, Executive Director, First Division Museum

On Saturday, March 8, 2014, Staff Sergeant Walter D. Ehlers, an honorable man, soldier, mentor and Medal of Honor recipient, was laid to rest at Riverside National Cemetery near Los Angeles, CA. Among the many dignitaries who came to pay their respects were about a dozen Medal of Honor recipients. Staff Sergeant Ehlers received his Medal of Honor for conspicuous service above and beyond the call of duty on June 9 and 10, 1944, in Normandy, France, just past deadly Omaha beach, which he had crossed on D-Day, June 6. Walt was a devoted veteran of the 1st Infantry Division and a friend of our First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois. We owed him this final farewell. The weather was beautiful, the setting sublime, the eulogies touching, the 1st Division honor guard perfect.

The day was not about the Medal but the man. Walt fought in many campaigns besides Normandy, and was wounded and decorated many times. Walt was proudest of getting his squad over Omaha beach without losing a man. His Medal was awarded in part for placing himself between the enemy and his troops. He carried one of them, wounded, to safety. After the war, his long life was exemplary – humility, faith, patriotism, devotion to family, service to fellow veterans, good humor, kindness and generosity, decency in large measure. We owe so much to men like Walt. His courage, their courage, ensured that our lives have been free of the terrible dangers of their day. We must do likewise in our day. There is no adequate “Thank you” beyond striving daily for our best ideals, to be a people, a community, and a country worthy of such service. Walt’s life was like that – living out his “Thank you” to his brother Roland, also a 1st Infantry Division soldier, who was killed in action on D-Day on that same Omaha beach. Rest in peace, Walt. Roland is proud of you, and we’ll take it from here - we promise.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Medill Launches Reporting Collective

by Mark Hallett, Journalism Program Officer

They include a Palestinian film maker, a Puerto Rican actor, a Venezuelan broadcast reporter, a Colombian community journalist and the long-time editor of the journal written by Chicago public housing residents. Others are reporters from Catalyst-Chicago, Austin Weekly News, Univision and WBEZ. They produce in all media forms and collectively have won an impressive array of Lisagors, Emmies and other awards for their work.

Meet the inaugural class of the Social Justice News Nexus, an experimental program launched in January by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications with a two-year grant from the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program. The social justice reporting fellowship is an effort to harness the talents of community reporters and Medill faculty and grad students to report collectively on critical issues facing Chicago neighborhoods.

“Chicago’s news ecosystem is vibrant though fragmented and the ability of in-depth series or exposés to set the agenda for engagement and action is frustratingly elusive,” says Medill Interim Associate Dean Jack Doppelt. “The strategy behind the News Nexus is to marshal both journalistic and community-based resources to serve as catalytic agents to address social issues.”

This first round includes an eager team of 14 community reporters and eight Medill grad students. They’ll report independently during the next six months and will come together frequently for skill shares, coaching, tutorials and editing. When the stories are ready to go, they’ll be published by the reporters’ respective websites and media outlets as well as on a special platform Medill is designing for the initiative. In addition, the team is exploring other avenues for public discussion of stories and perhaps even some surprises such as live events that will bring the stories into the communities they involve. Then a second round will begin with a new, related topic.

Leading the initiative at Medill are Doppelt, who stepped down from his post as Medill interim associate dean to be principal investigator on this project, associate professor Louise Kiernan as student fellowship director, Kari Lydersen as community fellowship director and Winnie Wang as News Nexus coordinator.

The 22 Fellows came together in late February for a two-day symposium on the topic of the program’s first round: “Rethinking the War on Drugs,” presented by the Seventh Circuit Bar Association Foundation and co-sponsored by NU’s School of Law and the Harvard Club of Chicago. The high-level symposium featured local and national experts on drug policy, and delved into the impact of mandatory sentencing, the social and economic costs of incarceration, the hemispheric drug trade and lively debate over the consequences of legalization of marijuana. Afterwards, Fellows gathered for a workshop on what they had heard and learned.

Community Fellow Adriana Cardona Maguigad, editor of The Gate, is reporting on the effectiveness of local rehab centers, active drug users in the Back of the Yards neighborhood and the illegal drug market in the New City area. “This Fellowship will help me bring to light untold stories of local residents who have been victims of an illegal industry that continues to have a strong presence in our communities,” she said.

Another Community Fellow, Sam Vega of the Spanish-language daily Hoy, is excited about being part of a network of reporters but also the skills he’ll be honing. “Being part of this Fellowship will allow me to continue my growth as a multimedia producer as I tap new skills like data analysis and investigative reporting,” he said.

“What surprised me was how many of our fellowship applicants had been directly affected by the first issue we are examining: drug abuse,” said Kiernan. Among the student fellows are a young man who worked as a juvenile probation officer in Los Angeles, a young woman whose family was torn apart by her father’s cocaine addiction and another whose interest in social issues was sparked by what she encountered teaching on a reservation.

How does the Medill faculty leadership team view the term ‘social justice’ within a reporting context?

Not a problem, says Doppelt. “We decided to be unabashedly affirmative about our investment in ‘social justice journalism,” he says. Doppelt defines the term as “a concerted effort to drive collective engagement and impact on issues that matter in the lives of Chicago’s communities".

"It is advocacy to the extent that we advocate for a constructive and sustained airing of those issues,” he said.

Lydersen agreed: “I’ve always been drawn to stories with a strong social justice angle both because they are so important and because they are often truly great stories,” she said. “They feature complex elements, strong and inspiring characters and information or wrongdoing that begs to be uncovered or exposed.”

Plus, Doppelt says, when he originally polled grad students on a new program built around ‘urban affairs’ reporting, there was no interest. But when the exact same program was described as a ‘social justice reporting fellowship,’ “every hand in the room went up.”

Stay tuned for some provocative reporting.

The Community Fellows Are:
  • Naeesa Aziz, freelance writer and journalist
  • Angela Caputo, Chicago Reporter
  • Adriana Cardona Maguigad, The Gate
  • Joshua Conner, creator of Newsgentpost website
  • Rafael Franco Steeves, journalist, photographer, actor and author
  • Ze Garcia, the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign and Radio Arte alum
  • Ahmed Hamad, Columbia College grad student and filmmaker
  • Bill Healy, WBEZ
  • Sarah Karp, Catalyst-Chicago
  • LaRisa Lynch, Austin Weekly News
  • Erika Maldonado, Noticias Univision Chicago
  • Mary C. Piemonte, Residents' Journal
  • Jackie Serrato, Vocalo and founder of Little Village Facebook community
  • Samuel J. Vega, Hoy

The Medill Grad Student Fellows are:
  • Caroline Cataldo
  • Kevin Clifford
  • Alexandra Hines
  • Will Houp
  • John Kuhn
  • Mauricio Peña
  • Stacia Smith
  • Elizabeth Wang

Monday, March 3, 2014

Giving at Home: Local Philanthropy is Key to Recovery

by Don Cooke, Vice President of Philanthropy

Over the past few years, we have witnessed some of the darkest times in our nation’s history. We have heard a relentless stream of stories about layoffs, fraudulent investment schemes, broke and broken governments, and corporate bailouts and unfathomable excess.

Yet one important sector that is in dire straits and is too often overlooked is the nonprofit sector—the one part of our community with the principal purpose of helping transform communities by providing access to programs and resources that improve lives. The sector is struggling, not because of greed or mismanagement, but because each nonprofit organization depends upon a uniquely American culture of generosity and of helping others. Unfortunately, charitable giving is often the first thing to be scaled back in households, foundations, and corporations that must tighten their belts in tough times, and it is often the last thing to rebound as the economy improves.

As our economy struggles to rebound and government agencies are short on resources, the demands on the social services continue to skyrocket.

Nonprofits are essential to our country’s recovery. They supply goods and services to those least fortunate. They are the keepers of our country’s history and our society’s creativity, and they are a vital part of lifelong learning and formal education. Just imagine your community without a human services safety net, without culture and the arts, and without nonprofits in education and healthcare.

So as nonprofits suffer, we all suffer. When nonprofits are forced to scale back their operations, it is not just a few more widgets that don’t reach the market. It is the host of basic needs of our own neighbors that go unmet. It means fewer meals dispersed at food banks; fewer beds in shelters; fewer hours for wonder and discovery in our museums; fewer mentors for our troubled youth; and fewer safe havens for kids to play. This is happening at a time when the number of people in need is growing at an alarming rate.

All together the nonprofit community accounts for about 6 percent of the nation’s GNP and represents more than 10 percent of the country’s workforce. This is a vital economic engine as well as the essential lifeline for many people and link to our heritage. Another way to look at it is that if the nonprofit community were its own country, its economy would rank 13th in the world!

This is a wakeup call for all of us. As the economy slowly improves and the plight of our most disadvantaged neighbors is pushed ever farther off the front page, we must not forget about the local nonprofit organizations in our communities and what they do for our society. For those of us who can help, we must not let the “out of sight out of mind” mentality takeover. And for those who cannot yet help, perhaps when things improve you will quickly jump back on the American tradition of reaching out to your fellow neighbors most in need.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Early Care and Education Has Hit the Jackpot...Or Has It?

by Sara Slaughter, Education Program Director

One sign that an issue has made it big is when it grabs the attention of the New York Times’ (NYT) editorial staff. On January 29, there were not one but THREE editorials in the NYT highlighting early care and education (How to Get More Early Bloomers, How Preschool Got Hot and Pre-K the Great Debate). Each of those editorials discussed the significance of the recent approval of the federal government to invest over $1 billion in early education. While that investment is a terrific victory, it is really just a starting point.

But there is something else missing too. If you read each of the NYT’s articles carefully, they start off talking about early education but then focus solely on quality preschool. To reach our goals of student success and closing achievement gaps, preschool is important but not sufficient. Research tells us we must start much earlier with infants and toddlers (children ages birth to two).

A report released this month, The Youngest Illinoisans: A Statistical Look at Infants and Toddlers in Illinois, sheds light on the challenged state of Illinois’ infants and toddlers. The study shows that in Illinois, nearly 45 percent of infants and toddlers live in low-income families, 12 percent live in extreme poverty and nearly 31 percent do not have access to a sufficient amount of healthy food. Children living in poverty tend to face “multiple risk-factors” such as economic stress, exposure to violence, low levels of parental education and unemployment, all conditions that can fundamentally effect brain and overall development and keep children from succeeding academically and socially.

So you see, while the political and media attention is a great catalyst to spark dialogue and garner support, what we need now is action for all our children, including our infants and toddlers.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Teenage Voting: Democracy Week's Primary Objective

by Shawn Healy, Civic Learning Scholar

Chicago elections are famous for the slogan, "Vote early and vote often." However, Illinois voters rarely live up to this adage. Turnout for national and state elections fall below national averages, and youth voting in local elections is abysmal, ranking 47 among 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Next month, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), in partnership with the Board of Elections, the McCormick Foundation, and a coalition of other civic organizations, is seeking to reverse this disturbing statistic. During "Democracy Week," scheduled for February 3-7, CPS and its partners plan to orchestrate a massive voter registration drive among high school students in an effort to capitalize on "Suffrage at 17" legislation passed last year. The new law enables 17-year olds to vote in the March 18 Primary so long as they will be age 18 by Election Day in November.

CPS has approximately 35,000 students in its nearly 150 high schools that are eligible to vote in March, and the "Democracy Week" coalition hopes to register at least 25,000 of them by the February 18 deadline. CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett urges high school principals to celebrate "Democracy Week" by providing a central location for voter registration, making time for students to register and encouraging teachers to educate students about 2014 candidates, prevailing issues, and the electoral process.

The "Democracy Week" coalition is supporting schools, principals, and teachers in a myriad of ways, all of which are free-of-charge. Two of the organizations, the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago and the Mikva Challenge, have designed a six-lesson voter education curriculum package for teachers to use in their classrooms.

The Board of Elections has created voter registration posters for display at schools along with a robust website with more information about "Suffrage at 17." Finally, the Mikva Challenge is engaging students in local campaign work and also training them to serve as election judges.

Collectively, "Democracy Week" takes the "vote early" segment of the Chicago slogan literally with the assumption that these pioneering high school students will "vote often" as lifelong participants in our democracy.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Getting Up to Speed: McCormick 101

by Phil Zepeda, Director of Communications

Growing up and spending most of my adult life in Chicago, I was very familiar with the McCormick Foundation, probably due to my interest in local philanthropy at a young age.

But now that I have the great fortune of working for this legendary organization, I’ve been able to hear about the rich life of our benefactor, Robert R. McCormick, and gain a better understanding of his contributions to our area – some monumental and others cultural.

For instance, it was McCormick who coined the term “Chicagoland,” with historians tracing its first use back to 1926.

McCormick led the effort to expand Chicago north of the Chicago River along Michigan Avenue. In 1918, the Chicago Tribune created an editorial platform raising attention about important civic improvement issues. His “Extend the Chicago Plan” was built off of Daniel Burnham’s city plan and promoted completing Michigan Avenue and building the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

Naming Chicago’s airport “O’Hare Field” was McCormick’s idea. An outspoken advocate for honoring the sacrifices of America’s veterans, McCormick spoke at the 1949 dedication that memorialized Naval Lt. Commander Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, the Navy’s first flying ace of the 1940s.

While most of his fame came from his work as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, McCormick was a prolific writer, authoring books on topics ranging from the Civil War to our First Amendment freedoms.

When most people hear McCormick, their thoughts may immediately veer towards Chicago’s McCormick Place. It was posthumously named in his honor as he was as a major proponent of bringing more conventions to Chicago.

But his legacy has influenced countless schools, communities and lives locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. As Director of Communications of the McCormick Foundation, it’s my intent to bring more of these stories to life and share how, even today, his influence to strengthen communities can be experienced in our everyday lives.