Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Two McCormick Foundation Program Officers Selected for Leadership Development

Two McCormick Foundation Program Officers were recently selected for prestigious leadership development programs in Chicago.

The Veterans Program's Manny Johnson was selected for the Chicago Urban League's IMPACT Leadership Development Program for 2017-2018. IMPACT selects a cohort of around 30 African American professionals with a demonstrated track record of civic leadership.

The intensive program partners with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to provide instruction in business ethics, negotiations, decision-making and interpersonal dynamics.

The Crain's Leadership Academy selected Courtney Hresja of the Foundation's Education Program. The Academy is a nomination-based program that offers personal development, professional growth, leadership exposure and civic outreach for advancing professionals.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Tracing America's Painful Past Can Offer Lessons for the Future

On Saturday night, staff from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation will be attending the DuSable Museum of African American History’s “Night of 100 Stars,” a benefit highlighting the amazing achievements of notable individuals, including artist and musician Chancelor “Chance the Rapper” Bennett, former World Food Program executive director Ertharin Cousin, and Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. and former president of the Chicago History Museum.

Lonnie Bunch 13615-171

Lonnie Bunch also had a piece in today’s New York Times about a recent incident at the National Museum in whcih someone placed a noose near one of the museum’s exhibits. This follows instances of nooses being left elsewhere on the National Mall in recent weeks, and in other places around the country as signs of racial hate and intimidation.

Bunch offers a powerful view into the continuing story of racism and bigotry in this country, as well as our uneven progress to fulfill our nation’s ideals. He writes about his work to curate the history of African American struggles in a deeply personal way. “Anger and sadness are always parts of this work, but I never let them dominate it. Instead, I use them to help me connect with the people who have suffered and continue to suffer immeasurable pain and injustice, while clinging to their humanity and their vision of a better country.”

Museum of African American History & Culture - Wide Angle

Whether it’s the experience at the National Museum or a visit to Chicago’s own DuSable exhibits, the lessons found within their archives, and in our shared lives, are of critical importance for each of us to reflect on and learn from.

Read Bunch’s entire article here:

For more on the National Museum of African American History and Culture, visit:

For more on the DuSable Museum of African American History, visit:

Monday, May 22, 2017

One Summer Chicago Success Stories

Louis Blake – Infrastructure Program

My name is Louis Blake and I am part of the Infrastructure Program. This program has provided a safe haven for me, by keeping me off of the streets and supplying me with the belief that I can be someone. Coming from a broken household, I struggled with my anger. This caused problems between my parents and I, and they felt as if they couldn’t handle me; I was literally left alone, homeless and having to fend for myself. Children’s Home and Aid Services helped me repair my relationship with my mother and I was able to move back in with her. The new stability in my home life encouraged me to find security in other areas. One Summer Chicago gave me that, and I now have a source of income and new friends that have similar goals and aspirations as me.

Aleeca McDuffy – ABC Daycare

My name is Aleeca McDuffy. I am from the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago. My community is very divided, it feels like the line where the rich meet the poor. If you walk four blocks west there are big, beautiful homes and you can see children playing on the front lawn. But if you walk towards the area known as “the jungle” then you see dilapidated apartments. Living in the area I do has shaped what I envision my future being. I want to go into law and one day become a judge and have the power to change neighborhoods like mine. I want to make a big impact like Martin Luther King and change the way people see each other. I think working with children is a great way to accomplish that. This One Summer Chicago Program has shown me that it is possible to relate to people that come from different places and even speak different languages.

Amanda Mala – ABC Daycare

My name is Amanda Mala and I work at ABC Daycare. I work with toddlers in the program and I enjoy learning how to interact with children through working at ABC. I want to become a pediatric doctor, and working at ABC is helping me prepare for that. My parents have told me that I need to work on my patience, and this job has given me a perfect opportunity to do so. Working with such young kids has taught me to anticipate what they need and to speak up for them. I have taken that and implemented it into my everyday life. When I see something wrong or witness a moment of injustice, I now feel confident enough to speak my mind. One Summer Chicago has helped me grow up in a matter of weeks.

Marquita Adams – Options for Youth

My name is Marquita Adams. I was raised in the Lawndale area of Chicago, IL. My mother is my rock. She has been there for me no matter what, and when I became a teen mom she encouraged me to stay in school and graduate. I graduated at the top of my class, and I was excited to see what the future held, not only for me but for my son as well. My mentor in Options for Youth program at Simpson Academy shows me that I should go away to school and focus on building a foundation for my new family. I am now 23 years old and a graduate from Southern Illinois-Carbondale with a degree in criminal justice. I plan to go back to school and get my masters [sic] degree in social work. I do all of these things to be a role model for others, including my son, and to show them that it is possible to be successful no matter what your circumstances are.

Kira Pitts – Green Corps

My name is Kira Pitts and I am a 17 year old rising senior at Bowen high school on the southside of Chicago. In my free time I play softball and study at school with my friends. I think it is important for teens in my generation to stay active to make sure they are on the right path. My brother was murdered almost 2 years ago over a petty disagreement. When he passed, he left behind a young son and a grieving family that has to learn what life is like without him. One Summer Chicago has been important to me because it provided me with the support I needed to help me mourn my brother’s death. I wish that there were more programs like this around the city and throughout the year for more teens, because they keep us active and productive. If there were more programs like One Summer Chicago, violence rates would be lower and teens would be more motivated to do better.

Lauryn Jackson – True Star Multi-Media

My name is Lauryn Jackson and I am one of three children. Being the middle child has shaped me into who I am. At times I struggled with finding my “fit” in my family, which caused me to alienate myself. Over the course of these past several years, I have learned the importance of using my voice and being heard. One Summer Chicago has provided me with the encouragement and support as I got over my fear of speaking up. I now am able to confidently voice my opinion without fear of judgement. In the future I hope that I’ll be able to provide others with that One Summer Chicago has provided me; confidence, intelligence, and the belief that anything is possible with the right mindset and work ethic.

Charles Brown – Teen Health Initiative

My name is Charles Brown and I am part of the Teen Health Initiative program. I come from the Chatham neighborhood in the southside of Chicago. My neighborhood has been affected by crime and violence, and I have to be cautious when coming and going from my house. Violence in the city is a big reason I decided to apply for the One Summer Chicago program. I have always been interested in encouraging youth to be more educated on the world around them. With this program, I get to practice that everyday. I inform my peers about mental health and work to alter the stigma associated with it. This program has helped me see that I want to improve communities like mine, by using the skills that the Teen Health Initiative has taught me.

Courtney Twyman – Green Corps

My name is Courtney Twyman and I live in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the southside of Chicago. For a long time I did not realize that I had been living my life confined in my neighborhood. One Summer Chicago opened my eyes to how beautiful this city is. I have lives in Chicago my whole life, but until joining Green Corps, I had never been to the beach. My idea of the city was limited to my neighborhood and the area around my high school, the Chicago High School for the Arts. The program introduced me to things I had never thought I would be interested in before, like gardening and caring for plants. I want to thank the people who made this program possible and I look forward to working in it again next year.

Daja Vivians – Infrastructure Program

My name is Daja Vivians and I am a mother of one. My daughter Jada is my world. She inspired me to change my life after going through the traumatizing experience of losing my first child. When I was pregnant, I felt as if I had nobody to turn to, until I became heavily involved in my church. After searching for activities to enrich my life, I learned about the One Summer Chicago program. I felt that it was the right fit for me because it provided me with opportunities that I couldn’t get elsewhere. As one of the oldest in the program at 20-years old, I feel for those younger than me. I know that children in Chicago are easily deprived of support that can help them reach their full potential. Without this program I wouldn’t be the great mother and amazing role model that I am now for my daughter. I hope that my story inspires others.

Dejanay Brooks – Green Corps

My name is Dejanay Brooks and I am a 15 year-old sophomore attending Kenwood Academy, where my program, Green Corps, is located. We bike, plant crops, and on Fridays, we learn financial literacy. We have learned about the importance of a savings account and how to build a resume. Growing up on the southside of Chicago, violence has taken very close people away from me. My programs [sic] is uplifting, and it keeps me busy. I hope to be working with this program again in the near future. I enjoy writing and I hope to pursue a career as a lawyer. One Summer Chicago has given me an opportunity to jump start my ideal career.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Discussing Controversial Topics: Civic Education is Key

by Shawn P. Healy, Director, Democracy Program

In April, I participated on a panel at a Council on Foundations’ preconference in Dallas, discussing Philanthropy’s Role in Strengthening America’s Democracy.

I was asked to weigh in on a narrative that dominates our county today: (1) Are we a divided country? (2) And if so, how do you see civic education helping to bridge our differences?

The McCormick Foundation’s statewide civic education work offers guidance on how schools and educators can begin bridging ideological and geographic divides. Context matters a great deal. A controversial issue in one region is settled in another. Research suggests that most of us follow the guidance of our grandparents to not discuss politics or religion. For the junkies among us, we're more likely to discuss politics among those with whom we agree, leading to the ideological amplification that increasingly cripples our democracy.

Understanding how to productively discuss controversial topics and learning to appreciate others’ perspectives, even if they are different than yours, is a key ingredient in building a stronger democracy. And America's classrooms is the perfect setting to begin developing these skills.

And here is why: students enter school with surprisingly heterogeneous views, even in deep red or blue areas. This coupled with the fact they are being taught by educators with the training (or at least the potential) to facilitate difficult political conversations across various ideologies and beliefs. Learning these practices will not only illustrate that thinking differently is not wrong or bad, but may demystify conflicting beliefs and help students to approach those issues with greater objectivity.

Civic development in the classroom needs to happen beyond state and national elections. True, elections have consequences and the outcomes may frustrate some, but elected officials represent us all and we are obliged to work with them through the public policy process that follows.

Many issues have local resonance and are often less ideological than those that play out on the state or national stage. Politics is a game of addition, and policy making often requires the building of bipartisan majorities across legislative bodies and branches of government.

Our successful legislative push two years ago for a high school civics course requirement offers many of examples of how we were able to build strong bipartisan collations in the Illinois General Assembly which was controlled by a Democratic supermajority. As a result, the bill was later signed by our Republican governor.

Civic education is bigger than red-blue, urban-suburban-rural divides. It is about the future of our democracy. Local context considered, best practices remain central to youth civic development and must be offered universally. Illinois' civic health may be on life support, but the prognosis for its long-term recovery is strong thanks to the fruits of the #CivicsIsBack Campaign.

Expanding Early Childhood Leadership in Illinois

by Cornelia Grumman, Director, Education Program

With support from the McCormick Foundation’s Education Program, the Erikson Institute in March launched a new track of its Early Childhood Leadership Academy. The McCormick Foundation Executive Fellows program trains high-level leaders across disciplines -- including politics, government, law enforcement, education, the law --about key components of the early education system. Fellows will hear from experts on leading-edge research, visit exemplary early childhood settings, network with cross-sector leaders and receive on-demand online content. Equipped with this information, the executives can make better informed decisions about policies and resource allocation in their respective fields to advance outcomes for young children.

A New Digital Home for the Foundation

In early April, the Foundation relaunched its current website,, with a refreshed appearance, refined functionality, and simplified content presentation. The previous site has been in place since 2009, and was in great need of update.

“The reengineered design better reflects the mission and history of the McCormick Foundation and incorporates the latest web technologies,” said Phil Zepeda, Director of Communications. “It’ll be much easier for users to find what they’re looking for and allows us to share news about our latest work with grantee organizations in a dynamic, engaging way.”

The site features a fully-responsive design, catering to a growing number of people who browse the internet via smart phones and tablets. The content remains focused on the Foundation’s grant programs, but also shares our connection with Cantigny Park and Cantigny Golf. Nonprofit Garden provided insightful and invaluable design consulting and programming guidance. 

Among the key changes: a site-wide content update; written with a renewed, engaging tone; simplified navigation and hierarchy; a full foundation staff bio and contact listing; social media integrations; and bold imagery. “We eliminated redundancy and streamlined navigation, providing more intuitive pathways to information,” said Brad Lash. “This will help us keep current with news, fundraising efforts and grant application deadlines.”

Zepeda added, “We look forward to building upon this great new digital space for the Foundation.”

Citywide Campaign Promotes Meaningful Employment Opportunities for Youth

by Jim Struthers, Chief Development Officer and Assistant Director, Communities Program

This year, the City of Chicago and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation formed a unique partnership to give Chicago youth and young adults, ages 14-24, the opportunity to make the most of their summer with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s One Summer Chicago.

One Summer Chicago 2017, a McCormick Foundation Fund, is the charitable fundraising arm of this dynamic initiative raising donations to support summer jobs, internships and other opportunities. Bringing together government institutions, community organizations and the business community, more than 31,000 of the city’s most at-risk youth will be engaged, safe and active while learning new job and life skills during the summer months.

In early May, former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama announced their support with a $1 million leadership gift to One Summer Chicago and drive additional donations from the public.

“We are so honored that the Obamas stepped forward with a substantial gift to help One Summer Chicago bring opportunities to Chicago’s young people, keeping them on a pathway to high school graduation and career success,” said David Hiller, President and CEO of the McCormick Foundation. “We hope their gift inspires thousands of other to support this effort.”

Under Mayor Emanuel’s leadership, Chicago has steadily increased its investment every year in mentoring and other youth programs to address some of the most urgent needs facing the city: keeping youth safe, improving school outcomes and reducing crime. In the past six years alone, One Summer Chicago has more than doubled the size of its program, providing more than 130,000 youth with valuable job training and work experiences.

An exciting city wide campaign is being planned in partnership with the Radio Broadcasters of Chicagoland, utilizing the expansive reach of radio to amplify One Summer Chicago 2017 fundraising efforts, additional details to be announced soon.

Lean how you can make a difference by visiting Follow the McCormick Foundation on Facebook and Twitter to learn the latest developments.

Securing Meaningful Careers for Chicago Veterans

by Megan Everett, Director, Veterans Program

There are a lot of misconceptions about veterans.

PTSD or on the brink of committing suicide.

Physically aggressive.

Broken heroes.

The list goes on and on.

Veteran-stereotypes are just that, stereotypes. And like most stereotypes they are not true.

The reality is most veterans are neither heroes nor broken, they are normal people looking to lead happy lives, have loving families, and obtain meaningful, successful careers.

Sadly, this is not reality that most veterans face when returning from service. According to a recent survey issued by the University of Southern California and Loyal University of Chicago, Chicago veterans are unprepared for the shift from military to civilian workforce, and, consequently struggle during the transition process. The study also showed about half of post-9/11 veterans, returning to Chicago, will experience a period of unemployment.

Here’s the thing -- veterans ARE trained leaders for whom accountability and strong work ethic are second nature. They are uniquely equipped to meet the demands of today’s civilian workplace, and should be seen as assets to an organization, not a charity case.

How can we as a city dispel veteran stereotypes and position them as “assets” in the Chicago business community? Insert one solution: the Commercial Club of Chicago’s Veterans Working Group (VWG).

In 2013, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Commercial Club of Chicago, and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning joined forces to start and initiative that would raise awareness within Chicago’s business community of the strengths veterans bring to the workplace and the unique nature of recruiting, hiring and retaining veterans.

Recognizing that meaningful and stable employment is the foundation for a smooth transition home, the VWG, comprised of regional leaders from a diverse range of industries and veteran employment experts, work together to devise actionable solutions to develop pathways for Chicago veterans to access and obtain meaningful, satisfying careers.

Over the last four years, VWG model has proven to be a success. The Group members attribute its success to a few key components:

  1. Meeting content focuses on addressing members and veterans’ needs
  2. Well-planned quarterly convenings
  3. Encouraging engagement and exchange of timely, localized best practices that can be easily implemented
  4. Connecting businesses to local resources

The VWG continues to draw more and more organizational leaders from various industries— and we see this as promising. Promising for the for veterans in the Chicago area, but also promising for those around the country who are interested in starting a similar regional initiative. The VWG can serve as a model for regional collaboration, public/private partnerships, galvanizing the business community, and improving support of veterans nationwide.

When veterans have access to rewarding jobs, the entire community benefits.

To access the Veterans Working Group case study click here.

Remembering the Forgotten War: WWI Centennial

by Paul Herbert, Executive Director, First Division Museum

One hundred years ago, the United States entered "the war to end all wars." Two momentous events in 1917 set the U.S. Army on its path from the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas to the poppy-covered fields of Cantigny, France. Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare provoked an American declaration of war in April and a promise from President Woodrow Wilson to immediately dispatch “a division” to France, which at the time the U.S. had none. The four infantry regiments selected to comprise the “First Expeditionary Division,” were among the very first to arrive in France in June 1917 and complete enough training to be ready by the spring of 1918.

The 1st Division's formative experience preparing for combat on the Western Front in World War I challenged soldiers in ways their counterparts today might recognize - raw recruits manning a new organization; extreme personnel turbulence; unfamiliar technology; precarious relationships with allies; doctrinal uncertainty; harsh living and training conditions; and the prospect of imminent combat with a hardened dangerous enemy. The organization they created did more than break a path for the forty-two divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) that followed, it set the foundation for the modern, permanently organized, combined arms divisions that characterized the U.S. Army for the rest of the twentieth century.

After the Battle of Cantigny, the First Division participated in the major battles of Soissons, St. Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne. From May 1918 to the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the First Division suffered more than 20,000 casualties, which included killed, wounded, and missing soldiers. It clearly wasn't “the war to end all wars,” but it was the war to change the world. It certainly introduced the United States as a major world power. The United States, for all its flaws, has been a force for good ever since.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We All Have a Stake in Strengthening Democracy

by David Hiller, President and CEO

At its recent meeting our board of directors approved several grants in our Democracy Program to support organizations committed to strengthening democracy and enhancing civic engagement in Illinois. The program, representing an $8 million annual investment, addresses a critical issue we face – sustaining our democracy in an era of great political polarization and lack of trust in our civic institutions.

The Mikva Challenge's Mayoral Youth Commission works to bring youth voice to the 
Mayor and other city officials on key issues that affect young people in Chicago.

Several of our partners are working to strengthen civic education and civic engagement among our young people. This is aligned with the state-wide effort to bring quality civic education back to all Illinois high schools, and to improve civics, history and other social studies in all the K-12 grades under the new Social Studies Standards. Mikva Challenge, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, Illinois Center for Civic Education, Golden Apple Foundation, and WE Charity are all champions of this work.

Speaking of civic education, we are also excited to be supporting the education programming based on the musical Hamilton. The program combines curriculum and classroom instruction based on the storyline of the musical, with the opportunity for 20,000 Chicago Public School students to attend Wednesday matinee performances.

Hamilton reminds us that our democracy was founded by immigrants and refugees from persecution, and that new arrivals have enriched and sustained our country ever since. The work of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has never been more needed. ICIRR New Americans Democracy Project, a non-partisan voter registration and education program, is aimed at engaging and strengthening the immigrant community. The Interfaith Youth Core supports engagement and public discourse across religious and ethnic divides.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom, Jr., and Christopher Jackson, White House, March 2016
The original cast of Hamilton performs at the White House, March 14, 2016.

Current events also underscore how essential a free and vigorous press is to our democracy. We are proud to support the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Illinois Press Foundation, and the Student Press Law Center in their defense of the First Amendment.

Charges of “fake news” besiege us each day, but there is important work ongoing to build news literacy – the critical thinking skills to assess the credibility of news and information. The News Literacy Project and Stony Brook University are doing extraordinary work in this area.

With traditional media being challenged, there are new and non-profit journalism organizations stepping up. The City Bureau, a grass-roots investigation unit connected with communities on Chicago’s south and west sides, is doing some great work in these historically under-served and under-reported areas. The Chicago Reporter, WBEZ, and Medill’s social justice and investigative reporting initiative are also leading important community journalism work.

Chicago is also fortunate to have numerous youth journalism organizations, creating important opportunities for raising youth voice in our media, and developing the next generation of journalists. Free Spirit Media, Street Level Youth Media, True Star Foundation, and the National Museum of Mexican Art are among the leaders.

Finally, the hard and unending work of government reform and improvement remains critical. We are honored to work with the Better Government Association, Change Illinois, Citizen Advocacy Center, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, and our other partners on this civic mission.

I’ve included a listing of all the fine organizations receiving recent grants at the end of this blog. All of them need engaged participants and supporters to carry forward their work. I encourage you to get involved with them, or with other groups in your communities. A healthy democracy needs all of us, and for all of us to remember that we are all in this together.

In these times, we are inspired and given hope by the extraordinary work of these champions of our democratic freedoms.

Here’s a list of the recent Democracy Program grants approved by the McCormick Foundation:

Grants for Civic Education:

Grants for Journalism:

Grants for Good Government:

"Immigrants, we get the job done."

Logo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

For those of you who are fans of Hamilton and may have been fortunate enough to see the Chicago or New York productions, you will recognize this line from the song “Yorktown (The World Upside Down).”

The song is an energetic exchange between statesman Alexander Hamilton and French military officer Marquis de Lafayette during the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. And while it’s an artful interpretation of events from more than 235 years ago, this lyric from the song rings true today with great relevance and hope.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My Journey as a Philanthropist, Part 4

by Kat Birkenbeuel, Development Intern

New Year’s resolutions. We make them. We break them.

Usually, our resolutions center on ourselves- wanting to lose weight, eat healthier, read more, finally get to the end of that to-do list, etc. But what if this year, we shift the focus of our New Year’s resolutions from ourselves? What if we resolve to get out and give back to those in need?

Throughout this blog series, I’ve shared my journey as a philanthropist. This journey started with a lemonade stand when I was 8, carried into high school and college with volunteering and ended up at the McCormick Foundation, but it isn’t over yet. Your journey begins with a shift in mindset, realizing that no matter if you have 50 cents or $50 million, you can still be a philanthropist.

What does this philanthropic New Year’s resolution look like? It looks like a Year of Giving.

Give the gift of time.

  • Sign up to be a mentor and be a positive role model in the life of an at-risk youth.
  • Help a small nonprofit with mailings and other administrative tasks.
  • Do you have special skills? Offer to help under-resourced organizations with photography, videography, copywriting, IT support or accounting.
  • Check-in on an elderly neighbor, visiting with them and offering to run errands or do a few house chores.

Give the gift of resources.

  • Instead of selling clothing for a few bucks at a resale shop, donate the clothing items to a local shelter, refugee organization or clothing donation box.
  • Buy extra school and classroom supplies, or unused materials, and give to a school in a low-income area.
  • Donate baby toys, outgrown toddler clothing and cribs to a teen parent resource center.
  • If you are throwing an event (i.e. conference, wedding, etc.), arrange to donate leftover meals to a homeless shelter.

Give the gift of financial support.

  • Become a monthly donor for an organization you love and support them all year long.
  • Pick 12 organizations to donate to throughout the year, one each month.
  • Donate a percentage (even if it’s just 0.5% or 1%!) from each paycheck to a local nonprofit.
  • Set up a friend-raiser for your birthday instead of asking for gifts. There are many nonprofits that have these tools available to you on their websites and Facebook does, too!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, however I hope it spurs ideas of how you can join me in this Year of Giving. Individually, we can’t solve the world’s problems. Collectively, we can sure try.

Thank you for following along on this blog series and warm wishes for a Happy New Year!

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