My Journey as a Philanthropist, Part 3

by Kat Birkenbeuel, Development Intern


There are so many articles out there trying to dissect the millennial brain when it comes to philanthropy. My generation is known for online engagement, valuing volunteer opportunities over donations and demanding transparency. We are idealistic dreamers.


But when the magnitude of need creeps in, so does the apathy. There are so many factors that affect the daily lives of those who are struggling to make ends meet. It can be discouraging. Can my $10 donation actually impact someone’s life? Apathy can be crippling. I am the first to admit it.



Recently I was able to attend a site visit and this experience gave me a different perspective.

On a regular Thursday morning, I hop off the L and walk down a rather typical street. I find myself in front of a brick building on a mild Chicago summer day. Walking inside, I glance around the cramped office, with desks covered in sticky notes and walls covered in color-coded white boards. A pretty ordinary space.

As we tour the building, we arrive in the early childhood classroom. Giggles of children bounce off the colorful walls as they proudly show off their newest artwork. A girl with big brown eyes looks up at us. I think of all the things her eyes have seen, yet she smiles and laughs and acts like any 4 year-old girl. It is then when I realize that this is no ordinary place.

The tour continues as we visit various English-learning classrooms and we are welcomed with smiles from parents, elderly and teenagers alike, all eager to show off their reading skills. Students’ eyes fill with pride as they correctly answer questions and speak with us.

The program coordinator explains that refugees are often illiterate in their first language, so trying to learn to read, write and comprehend things in a new, unfamiliar language is even more of a challenge. She articulates to us that if an individual, refugee or not, cannot read or write, they cannot fill out job applications, which means they have no paycheck. With no income, they cannot pay for a roof over their heads. With low literacy skills, they cannot help their children with school work or fill out health forms at the doctor.


That’s when I have this lightbulb moment. Social issues don’t happen in a vacuum, instead they compound on each other. Individuals and families in need in our communities aren’t just struggling with one thing- their struggles come at them from all sides. It’s a snowball effect.


My generation thinks that with so many problems in the world, their donation doesn’t matter. It won’t make a difference. It won’t solve everything. But once we realize that needs are interconnected, that thought changes. Yes, you can’t solve every problem in our world, but when you support someone in need in one aspect of their life, it helps them tenfold. Not every social issue is a cause, sometimes it is a symptom of something else. However, when we give our support, we start another snowball effect for the better.


As I wrote in part two of this series, just because you can’t give big, doesn’t mean that you can’t have an impact. You can give small once a month. You and your friends can decide to make a donation instead of getting each other holiday gifts. When you add up the collective impact you, or you and your friends, make throughout the course of a year, you are changing lives. Let’s revisit the story from the beginning of this post and see just how big of an impact one or two programs can have:

When a refugee organization provides stable housing to a family and English literacy courses, they are actually improving their quality of life. English literacy courses allow adults to find work. Stable housing allows children to focus on school and stay in a constant environment and not switch classrooms and districts from moving around. Employed parents are able to support their children with education and resources they need to succeed.


So yes, your donations can make a difference. Apathy aside, millennials do understand the issues troubling our society. Unlike previous generations, we don’t necessarily support organizations based on their popularity; we support issues that we care about and organizations who help change lives in these avenues.


When society starts looking at issues over organizations, there is a shift in thinking. Instead of donating to the organization with the most popularity, we should start donating to organizations who are doing the most innovative work - organizations who combine structural change with wraparound direct services.


Yes, there are a lot of problems in the world. But I believe we can fix them if we try. We might not be able to see our impact right away, but I promise you that you can make a difference when helping those who need it most.


This is the third part of a four-part series on my journey into philanthropy as a millennial. If you missed the first two installments, read part one or part two here.

Home of the Brave

by Brad Lash, Web Content Strategist


Land of the Free. Home of the Brave. Melting Pot. Land of Opportunity. With slogans like these, it comes as no surprise that people across the world are attracted to move to the United States. Our national rhetoric promises inclusion and equitable access to “The American Dream”, however the hardship and prejudice that today’s immigrants face when they arrive tell a different story.



I recently had the opportunity to visit Pui Tak, a grantee of the McCormick Foundation’s Communities Program. Pui Tak hosts English classes for adult students from East and Southeast Asia. I listened as immigrants from countries such as China, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia shared their stories. A strong common theme was their desire to create a better life for themselves and their families, whether they were in their twenties or seventies. Many of them work hard in low-paying laborious jobs. People make fun of their accents or tell them to go back where they came from, yet these courageous people press on like the generations of immigrants that came before them.


My grandparents moved to Chicago from Lithuania almost 100 years ago. My grandfather owned a gas station on the west side of the city and worked long hours to make sure my aunt and father could get college educations and not have to perform hard labor. Because of my grandfather’s hard work, my dad was able to attend college with financial help from the GI Bill after serving in the National Guard. My mother was a teacher with a Master’s Degree in Special Education and other advanced certificates in the field. Both she and my father worked hard to provide better opportunities for my sister and me. This instilled in us a strong work ethic which we applied to part-time jobs we had throughout high school and college to help support our family. I hope that future generations of our family can have a life that is easier still, and the children and grandchildren of today’s immigrant population can experience the same inclusion and opportunity to succeed.



The Chinese sometimes refer to the United States as “Mei-Guo”, which roughly translates to “beautiful nation”. People have been migrating to new lands for as long as we’ve existed as a species. We’re driven by the desire to provide a better life for ourselves and our children. As long as our country remains a land of opportunity, people will find ways to start a new life here. That drive and courage strengthens and diversifies our nation. We as Americans should not forget that many of our ancestors also started as immigrants and we should be proud to embrace their stories and the strength they provide.

Electing President Lincoln

by Jeff Anderson, McCormick Museum Tour Coordinator


This summer, the Robert R. McCormick Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois, obtained a painting by Chicago Tribune artist James Sessions. The painting depicts a meeting between Abraham Lincoln and Chicago Tribune editors, Joseph Medill and Dr. Charles Ray. Lincoln was seeking advice regarding a speech that he would be giving in New York the following year. This speech was famously known as the Cooper Union speech, which was considered to be one of his most important speeches of his career. Some historians argued that it was this speech that was responsible for his victory in the presidential election later that year.


Joseph Medill and Charles Ray were fierce advocates of Lincoln. Their allegiance was formed during the senate race against Senator Stephen Douglas. During that election the Chicago Tribune published several articles and editorials praising Lincoln.



On February 28, 1860, Lincoln delivered the Cooper Union speech in which he elaborated views on slavery affirming that he did not wish it to be expanded to the western territories and claiming that the majority of the Founding Fathers would agree with this position. This stance was in direct rebuttal to Senator Douglas’s most recent stance that the Founding Fathers favored popular sovereignty, under which settlers in each territory decided their own status as a salve or a free state.


When Medill and Ray finally read Lincoln’s speech, they noticed that nearly all of their advice and alterations were absent. Ray said “old Abe must have lost out the car window all our precious notes …”

Tis the Season to Give

by Jim Struthers, Chief Development Officer


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 who are less fortunate.


One way the Robert R. McCormick Foundation is lending a helping hand, is through our annual Holiday Campaign. Each year the Robert R. McCormick Foundation partners with six of our Fund Partners across the nation. In Chicago, Chicago Tribune Charities is raising funds for those in need across Chicagoland. The Los Angeles Times Family Fund is making a difference in the fight against illiteracy, homelessness and hunger. The Denver Post Season to Share, 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.



This year’s campaign, was inspired by a storytelling workshop in August, focusing on the stories of our grantees and their clients. Through dynamic photography and a comprehensive digital strategy, our goal for this year’s Campaign is $5 million over the course of 6 weeks. Additionally, giving to one of 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 non-profits to do so. All campaign and administrative expenses are paid, meaning 100 percent is granted to qualified local non-profits working to help low-income families, children and adults become increasingly self-sufficient.


Visit the McCormick Foundation’s website and follow along on social media with the hashtag #RewriteTheStory.

Veteran Faces

by Megan Everett, Veterans Program Director


The Robert R. McCormick Foundation recently granted nearly $1.2 million to eight nonprofits supporting veteran services, reintegration and public health initiatives in Illinois. To help promote the important work of these organizations, we are sharing short vignettes that capture how these organizations are impacting local veterans.


Since September, we have had the privilege to speak with four incredible individuals on how our partner organizations such as, National Able Network, Bunker Labs, Chicago Lighthouse, and Thresholds have helped them transition back into civilian life. The stories below reveal hardships, successes, and self-reflections faced by these veterans upon leaving the military.


To view the full interviews follow @McCormick_Fdn on Twitter and Like the McCormick Foundation on Facebook.



Deneen Gayles, National Able Network


I am a National Guard veteran. I retired in 2014 after serving in the military for nearly 30 years. I enlisted right after high school. Being in the military enabled me to get a college degree. While serving, I became a Certified Public Accountant.


Now that I am out, I am going back to school to get my MBA. These days, you really need an MBA to be considered a “good” accountant. My hope is by completing the MBA program, it will make me a more marketable candidate to future employers. I also hope it will help me to gain perspective on how to navigate the corporate culture. Since leaving the military, I have worked in a few different industries. Through each of those experiences I have had a difficult time fitting in. The military is a very team-oriented organization and that is not always the case on the civilian side.


A year ago, I came to National Able to get assistance assembling my resume and getting a tutorial on professional networking sites, like LinkedIn. LinkedIn has really been helpful for me. Since activating my account, I have been approached by numerous recruiters. I am not totally comfortable with social media—I don’t even have a Facebook account. My experience with National Able has helped me manage my professional identity, and to be more open to new opportunities that may be different than my experiences in the military.



Sandra Edwards, Bunker Labs


I am an Army Veteran, and now an entrepreneur. I own a rent-to-own tire financing company. My target market is individuals, mostly women, from low-income communities. I have been a small business owner for three years, and with The Bunker for one. Todd Connor, CEO of The Bunker, invited me to join The Bunker community a year ago. Since joining this vibrant community of veteran entrepreneurs, I have gained the confidence and knowledge that I need to be a successful, more strategic business owner. Most importantly, I am part of a community that wants to see me succeed.


Traditional business school courses teach you how to develop business plans and understand the technical side of running a business. The Bunker is different. It is an organization that helps to grow the individual, in addition to helping build a strong business model. Recently, William Blair, the global banking and investment firm, came to The Bunker to discuss different financial models. This is essential information to understand when working on a start-up. If you don’t have a goal and a path to get there, then you probably won’t. And through William Blair’s guidance, I have been able to figure out how to get there. This is a resource that I probably wouldn’t have had if not for The Bunker.


In short, I feel very blessed. I am. I used to be homeless, so there is nowhere for me to go but up.



William Bryant, Chicago Lighthouse


I served in the Marine Corps from ’82 to just close to ‘85. I was 17 years old when I enlisted. I chose the Marine Corps, probably because I was young and very petite – 120 pounds soaking wet. I wanted to participate in something that was going to challenge me, so I joined the Marine Corps.


While in the Marines, I served in Okinawa, Japan at Camp Pendleton, spent time in the Philippines, and got to see the world— I really enjoyed that. I was a heavy equipment mechanic 1342 and went to Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego and came out the south side of Chicago.


In 1985, I was medically discharged –I was losing my eye sight. It was a rough year and transition. All at once, I was told I was going to probably lose my vision, and have to leave the one thing I really loved. At 20 years old I was asking myself, ‘what am I going to do now? I’m losing my vision, and don’t have a job.’ I decided to go to refrigeration, air condition, and heat school. I wasn’t ready to accept my impending fate. I was still kind of young and naive; really headstrong. At that time, I was still able to see but my night vision was starting to go.


After that career path, I decided to take another pivot and enrolled in mortuary school. I got my license as a funeral director and embalmer, but had trouble with low-light churches and driving. Long story short, that career did not work out for me.


As time went on, my eyesight started diminishing more rapidly. As a man I thought, ‘I can’t be cool, and be blind, carrying a stick.’ In 1994, everything changed. It was the year I started coming to the Chicago Lighthouse, and I have been with them ever since—nearly 22 years. Chicago Lighthouse has helped me to accept my condition and to find employment. Through Lighthouse’s guidance and support, I recently landed a position with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and the Veterans Call Center. I have now been there for 18 months. I was born to do this work, and I love it.



Todd McCoy, Thresholds


I have known about Thresholds for quite a while now. I was a member back in 1989, and participated in their programs for three years. In 2012, I needed help again and I went to NASH to see if I qualified for disability benefits, and they referred me to Threshold’s Veterans Project. It has been a lifesaver. This program is the catalyst that gets me up and out every day. And it gives me the tools I need to deal with my issues. And it gives me hope. If it was not for the programs and the support groups they offer, I don’t even think I would be able to keep my room or apartment. The meditation group, the drama group, and the beyond survival groups are the ones I participated in the most. There’s also a movie group that helps you get the meaning of the movie. The movies are very inspiring and ones that give you hope—they are the kind that give you the message that you can change and do better.


Thresholds has help me gain the confidence I need to succeed, given me a path to reintegrate into society, helped me talk more freely about myself, and has given me effective approaches to handle my feelings. Without their support, I would be lost. And I really believe that.