Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Way to Olympia

by Francisco Martinez, Communications Associate

On July 26, 1990, our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates 25 years since the passage of this historic mandate. To honor the ADA and raise awareness of barriers still faced by individuals with disabilities, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, in partnership with WTTW/Channel 11, is hosting a McCormick Community Screening at the Chicago History Museum (CHM) featuring the film My Way to Olympia on November 16.

This award-wining documentary, directed and produced by Niko von Glasow’s, a disabled filmmaker, follows a group of disabled athletes preparing for London's Paralympics competition. Born with severely shortened arms, von Glasow serves as an endearing guide to London’s Paralympics competition. As he meets a one-handed Norwegian table tennis player, the Rwandan sitting volleyball team, an American archer without arms and a Greek paraplegic boccia player, his own stereotypes about disability and sports get delightfully punctured.

The screening will conclude with a provocative discussion with Paralympic athlete, Linda Mastandre. Linda represented the United States in two Paralympic Games, three World Championships, the Pan American Games and the Stoke-Mandevill Wheelchair Games winning 15 gold and 5 silver medals in wheelchair track.

The Chicago History Museum acts as the perfect backdrop for this program. Since June, CHM has been hosting an exhibition, Access for All, featuring images by renowned disability rights photographer Tom Olin. The nineteen framed prints, on loan from the permanent art collection at Access Living, depict the activists who brought about the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990.

To reserve a seat click here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Veterans Benefit from 311 Enhancements

by Megan Everett, Program Officer

Have you used the Chicago 311 Call Center recently? In January 1999, Chicago implemented the 311 system to enhance access to all city services and to decrease 911 calls for non-emergency police services. The system centralized satellite call centers so that citizens did not have call several different departments to reach the services that they need.

Fast forward to 2015, after a series of meetings with staff from the Mayor’s Office, the Advisory Council on Veterans Affairs for the City of Chicago welcomed the news that the city would enhance the 311 intake assessment to better identify military veterans and active duty service members so they could be directed to specific resources and services. On June 24, 2015 Mayor Emanuel’s office announced that residents who call 311 to request a range of services, including homeless prevention, employment services, senior well-being checks, emergency food, and crisis referral services, will be asked by a 311 operator if they are a veteran or active duty service member. This simple question allows the city to more effectively target and allocate resources to support veterans and active duty services members in Chicago.

Victor Lagroon, Chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Veterans Affairs said, “for generations Chicago has given its best and brightest whenever our nation has called. Many returning veterans have struggled to gain access to needed services in a timely manner. We applaud the City of Chicago for launching this much needed initiative. Important steps like this will ensure that fewer veterans and their families will find themselves without much needed resources and support.”

Click here to read more about this important initiative.

Getting the Word Out

by Christy Serrano, Program Officer

The best way to enhance your child's development, simply put, is to talk with them. Dr. Dana Suskind, founder and director of the Thirty Million Words (TMW) initiative recently released a book, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child's Brain that discusses the importance of early exposure to language in a child's development. The book provides an engaging and informed account of Dr. Suskind's experience as a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon, highlights emerging early childhood research and outlines three simple tools, known as the Three T's, that every parent and caregiver can us to enrich their child's language environment. The Three T tool kit includes:

  • Tune in to what your child is doing
  • Talk more by using descriptive words with your child
  • Take turns engaging in conversation with your child

It's no secret to speech/language and hearing professionals that children's early language environments are critical to their speech, language, and academic outcomes. However, it wasn't until 1995 when Betty Hart and Todd Risley released a groundbreaking study that spotlighted the extreme disparities of language development among high-income and low-income families. The study revealed that by their fourth birthday, children from high-income families heard over 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. This “30 million word gap” is simply a metaphor, relating not just to quantity of words but to quality, as well. Hart and Risley’s research found that children who heard less words also heard harsher, more prohibitive speech, less complex vocabulary, and less conversational give-and-take. Their follow-up studies showed that this difference in early language environment impacted vocabulary development and ultimately, I.Q and test scores in 3rd grade.

Dr. Suskind's new book translates the science of early brain development in an accessible way to help reinforce the importance of early language input and to illustrate that "parent talk" is the most powerful tool for building a child's brain, beginning at birth, and sending them to school ready to learn. Additionally, the book highlights the policy implications that suggest a greater focus on early childhood development is critical in narrowing the achievement gap.

For more information on the Thirty Million Words Initiative, please visit:

Growing a Healthy Community in Englewood

by David Pesqueria, Senior Program Officer

Residents are the most important assets to any community. Yet many communities face challenges, such as high poverty, unemployment, failing schools and housing instability that directly impact their residents and deter growth.

Englewood in Chicago is one such community. For decades, community residents, nonprofits and government-funded programs have worked tirelessly to reverse a declining population and job base, underperforming schools and high crime. In June, key community players, including community residents, Teamwork Englewood, Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Chicago (LISC-Chicago) and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, came together to begin discussing such challenges faced by the community. On the agenda, was updating a comprehensive community revitalization blueprint called the Quality of Life Plan, originally crafted in 2005, that has acted as a framework for building, sustaining and operationalizing community structures. Through the Quality of Life process, TeamWork Englewood’s charge is to bring residents and key stakeholders together to create a new plan for the community.

LISC-Chicago has begun this same process within three other Chicago communities including, Auburn Gresham, Belmont Cragin and Chicago Lawn. Over the course of the next several months, the cohorts of the four communities, including Englewood, will work together and independently to plan and develop a 5-10 year Quality of Life Plan with and for their respective communities.

During that time, the McCormick Foundation will provide updates on the Englewood Community’s progress on this first step towards the development and implementation of a Quality of Life Plan to guide newly identified community strategies and projects.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Student Leaders in Elections

by Shawn Healy, Civic Learning Scholar

Young people participate in our democracy when they have the capacity, connections, and commitments to follow through. School-based civic learning is a critical contributor to this equation, and Illinois Governor Rauner’s recent signing if landmark civic education legislation is reason to celebrate. Also critical to youth civic development are real-world opportunities to contribute to democratic rituals like elections.

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law connected the two in their “Student Leaders in Elections” program that spanned three elections over the past two years. They collected more than 3,500 applications to serve as election judges from college students throughout the Chicagoland region. Nearly half of them served as judges in at least one election, and more than too worked two or more elections.

A follow-up case study published last month produced generalizable findings that contribute greatly to our understanding of the recruitment of students as election judges and the value they bring to election administration. A few findings are worthy of highlighting:

  • Email was actually the most effective recruitment method contrary to the face-to-face tactics most successful in other forms of civic and political engagement.
  • Bilingual students were among the most highly engaged and committed election judges. Many felt a special obligation to bring fellow citizens with limited English proficiency into the political process.
  • Community college students also showed greater commitment than their four-year college peers.
  • College election judges make the administration of elections more efficient given their comfort with the latest polling place technologies.
  • Student judges were mobilized throughout the City of Chicago and were sent to understaffed precincts.

These findings speak to the value of the Student Leaders in Elections program and the need to sustain and grow it further. It goes without saying that the students themselves benefit for serving as vital cogs in the machinery of our democracy, and they are actually compensated for their efforts. Here’s hoping that programs like Chicago’s attract continued and new sources of public and private funding, and that the findings of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee inform their development.

Preserving the Green

by Scott Witte, Director of Golf Maintenance

In 1993, Cantigny became one of the earliest golf courses in the United States to earn the prestigious classification of “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary”. To reach certification, property owners and managers demonstrate a high degree of environmental excellence in: Environmental Planning, Wildlife & Habitat Management, Outreach and Education, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, and Water Quality Management.

In recent years, Cantigny Park and Cantigny Golf have joined forces to maintain the Robert R. McCormick Estate’s Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status. In doing so, Cantigny joins over 3,000 properties including golf courses, cemeteries, ski areas, housing developments, hotels, and communities in the rigorous certification program. Through education, technical assistance, certification, and recognition, Audubon International facilitates the implementation of environmental management practices that ensure natural resources are sustainably used and conserved.

Environmental efforts put forth by Cantigny staff and volunteers provide a tremendous value to our surrounding community. Just a few of the programs generated from the program include: Wildlife Habitat Restoration in native prairies and woodlands, Bluebird Nest Box Monitoring, starting a Purple Martin Colony, recycling drums for Rain Barrel sales, The Bee Barometer Project, and several outreach and education events to showcase golf’s environmental opportunities.

While actively engaged in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program, Cantigny has incorporated the use of safer pesticides and fertilizers with extremely low toxicity levels. An effort to minimize inputs wherever possible is common place at Cantigny. The overall effect is responsible land management on the cutting edge of technology, sensibility, and sustainability.