Thursday, August 24, 2017

Exciting Times for the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance

by Molly Baltman-Leonard, Assistant Director/Grantmaking, Communities Program


In May 2017, the Chicagoland Workforce Funders Alliance, a collaboration of foundations and corporate funders focused on employment equity, received a $1 million personal gift from President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama. The Obama’s donation will support an effort to open apprenticeship pathways into the building trades for adults, especially young adults, who have been underrepresented in the trades sector.



In partnership with the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Jobs Council, and a variety of other foundations and corporate partners, the Obamas’ gift will help to identify and solve workforce challenges within the Building Trade Sector such as:

  • Capturing better data on diversity and inclusion.
  • Coordinating leadership from "construction buyers" to support shared solutions and track progress in the sector as a whole.
  • Designing and supporting effective career pathways for young adults to access jobs and apprenticeships as alternatives to four-year higher-education institutions.


Formed in 2012, the Funder Alliance collaborates with employers and other workforce stakeholders to increase employment, earnings, and race equity for underprepared workers in the Chicago region. The Alliance is built on the notion that a skilled workforce creates more successful businesses, more stable families, and a stronger economy. As one of its shining beacons, Matthew Bruce believes, “workforce development is at its core community development, because with a strong labor force a community can invest in itself and thrive.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Striving Together to Support Illinois Veterans

A look at several community collaborations working together to serve veterans.

by Megan Everett, Director, Veterans Program


When veterans come home they do not return to federal agencies; they return to communities across the country. And many of these communities do not have the knowledge, capacity and/or resources to support veterans, especially those facing service-related challenges. While most veterans successfully transition into civilian life, those who need assistance find that the post-service process can be frustrating and support hard to come by.



There are approximately 415,000 veterans in the Chicagoland area, 700,000 in the state of Illinois. The McCormick Foundation veterans program strives to make Illinois the best state for veterans and military families to thrive. One way we approach this mission is to support pathways and networks to coordinated outcome-based programs that provide transitioning service members, veterans and military families ease of access to supportive services. All the jargon aside, we know that one organization whether it be nonprofit, private, or public cannot do it alone. A coordinated network of services and activities working towards a common agenda where organizations are truly integrated and collaborating will allow veterans and their family members to reach their full potential and continue to contribute back to our community as they did while serving our country. Simply, if the mental health agency is networked to the workforce development agency which is in the network of the legal aid clinic that’s connected to a housing agency, veterans and family members are going to receive a more efficient and connected continuum of care.


Community collaborations to serve veterans and family members have emerged across the nation in various forms over the past several years. In April 2012, the Center for New American Security (CNAS) published “Well After Service: Veteran Reintegration and American Communities”, examining veteran wellness models and several leading collaborative efforts around the country to meet veterans’ needs. The report offered a best practices framework for community-based veteran reintegration that is the basis for community models to this day:

  • Build on existing community strengths.
  • Emphasize and/or expand the community potential to realize and sustain positive public health and social welfare outcomes.
  • Foster self-determination among the population being served.


Another study about building community collaborative was produced in June 2016 by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) which also recognized that there remains a need for more effective collaboration between organizations that service the same population. CNAS produced a new paper in April 2017 called “A Continuum of Collaboration: The Landscape of Community Efforts to Service Veterans” which concluded, amongst many other conclusions, that “communities without formal collaborative activity to serve veterans likely would benefit from some similar activity.” Each of these research papers offers a very thorough and in depth analysis of the evolving collaborative and collective impact efforts in the veteran space and are an excellent resource for any organization or individual working in the field.


Based on this research and studies by many others that work with special populations, the McCormick Veterans Program seeks to support a coordinated network of services in Chicagoland and Illinois. Clearly this is no easy feat but we hope to encourage, facilitate and be true partners in this effort. We continue to learn from the field, both locally and nationally, and strive to connect the dots between organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. While no effort is perfect, with continued cooperation and collaboration, we hope to continue to build a strong network of private, public, and nonprofit partners who understand that as a collective whole, we will best serve veterans and their families.


What are some of the collaborative efforts going on in Chicago and Illinois? We would like to highlight a few efforts that we are supporting. If there is a veteran collaborative network operating in your community, we would love to learn about it:


Our most significant effort to support collaboration amongst organizations is Illinois Joining Forces (IJF). IJF was launched in 2012, through an inter-governmental agreement between the Illinois Departments of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and Military Affairs (IDMA) as a statewide, public-private network of military and veteran serving organizations working together to improve services for service members, veterans and their families. IJF strives to be the connective tissue amongst the nonprofits serving veterans and their families building a seamless service provider network. It is a partnership of stakeholders—informed by a common goal, committed to creating a collective impact for positive results among the veteran community. Being a statewide network, IJF is working to assemble hubs of services providers, or veteran support communities, across the state.


Hosted by DePaul's Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP) the Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative (MVI) is a Chicagoland five-year initiative to identify and develop leadership capacity and a network within Faith Based Organizations (FBO) to benefit veterans and their families by recognizing & utilizing veterans' assets and opportunities for growth. One of the major strategic actions of the MVI is developing competent, service-provider networks that provide ease of navigation and access to pertinent resources for veterans & their families on a timely and consistent basis.


In an effort to extend the collaborative veteran network into other community assets, we recently partnered with the Institute of Museums and Library Services to convene library and museum professionals as well as veteran service organizations. Community Salute is an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services aimed at strengthening the ability of libraries, archives and museums to respond to the needs of veterans and military families.


And there are some exciting potential collaborations on the horizon involving mentorship and a Chicagoland specific collaborative hub. As the most recent CNAS study said, “in theory, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. There are great synergies and efficiencies to be realized through effective collaboration, and better efficacy too.”

Beyond the Classroom: Promoting Civic Learning at Home

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Director, Democracy Program


As a young boy, I developed an early interest in politics, thanks in part to the influence of my parents and grandparents. I recall my father bringing me along with him to vote, my paternal grandmother taking two newspapers each day and faithfully watching gavel-to-gavel coverage of the party conventions, and my maternal grandmother meeting with her alderman at the kitchen table.


Now, with two kids of my own, I’ve tried my very best to pass the torch, modeling these same behaviors and demonstrating my daily commitment to strengthening democracy in Illinois. However, democracy is not a solitary sport. Schools, community members, and families must come together to educate the next generation to collectively discuss and resolve common problems.



In early August, I attended the 2017 Summer Convening of the Action Civics Initiative in Philadelphia where I participated in a Facebook Live session sponsored by Pearson. During the session we discussed how high quality civic education needs to go beyond the schoolhouse gates.


The Robert R. McCormick Foundation has been working to institutionalize this approach through the Illinois Democracy Schools Initiative. Democracy Schools are high schools that are dedicated to expanding and improving civic learning experiences across the curriculum. Each school undergoes a school-wide civic assessment.


The Foundation believes civic education is a shared responsibility and encourage schools to include students, teachers, administrators, community partners, and parents in the assessment process. The best outcomes occur when families, community members, lawmakers, and schools, work together to build the civic capacities, commitments, and connections among youth necessary for informed, effective, and lifelong engagement in our democracy.


Unfortunately, many national high school civics teachers don’t feel supported by parents. One in four, according to the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, believe that parents and/or community members do not approve of them discussing political or controversial issues in the classroom. And, when it comes to teaching about elections, only 28 percent of educators believe that parents would encourage these practices.


Scholars Michael McDevitt and Spiro Kiousis examined the interplay of students, parents, and schools in the political socialization process. They found innovative curriculum promoted the civic development of high school students along with parents by stimulating news media attention and discussion in families.


Thus, this symbiotic relationship between parents and school-based civic learning has mutual benefits for student and parent alike. It bears nurturing beyond teaching about elections and deliberative discussion, including youth participation in the public policy process.


The family plays a prominent role in youth civic development. Help model and support responsible civic behaviors in your home by:

  • Discussing local, national and international current and political topics.
  • Volunteering time and resources to enhance local communities.
  • Encourage children to form and express their own views on current controversial issues.
  • Support the discussion of controversial issues in schools.
  • If eligible, vote, and talk to children about why they vote.
  • Involve their children in out-of-school groups and organizations that address political and social concerns.

First Division Museum Reopens at Cantigny Park

The First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton reopened its doors to the public on Saturday, August 26. The Museum began a transformational update last fall including the addition of “Duty First,” an all-new gallery focusing on the modern (post-Vietnam) history of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.


The new experience features new and updated exhibits plus cutting-edge storytelling techniques. The “Duty First” gallery occupies the 2,500-square-foot space formerly used for temporary exhibits and programs. Inside it, visitors will learn about the different types of missions performed by the 1st Infantry Division today with the information, in many cases, delivered by the voices of military veterans. Interactive exhibits apply virtual reality technology that is sure to leave a lasting impression.


The First Division Museum’s other major gallery is “First in War.” This space, thoroughly updated with new media and more artifacts, will be familiar to previous visitors. Powerful immersive experiences remain intact, such as walking through a WWI trench, onto Omaha Beach and through the jungles of Vietnam.


As before, the compelling record of the Division is presented in the context of broader history, inviting Museum visitors to engage in the tough issues of war and peace.


The Museum’s grand reopening coincides with the 100th anniversary of the famed military unit known as the “Big Red One.” It became the first division of the U.S. Army in June 1917, assembling to fight in France in World War I. Col. Robert R. McCormick served in the Division during the Great War, participating in the successful Battle of Cantigny in 1918. Returning after the war, Col. McCormick re-named his farm Cantigny in honor of those who served in the battle, and on his death in 1955 left Cantigny Park in trust for the enjoyment of the people of Illinois.


“There is no better way to commemorate the centennial of the First Division,” said David Hiller, president and CEO of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. “We know how Colonel McCormick revered the Big Red One, and all the men and women who served in the armed forces. He’d be pleased that this wonderful Museum honors veterans and all those who serve.” The renovated Museum provides a comprehensive telling of the Big Red One’s service since the Vietnam era and allows for future updates.


“For 100 continuous years, members of the 1st Infantry Division have been all around the world, risking their lives on our behalf and in our defense,” said Paul Herbert, executive director of the First Division Museum. “We’re proud to tell that story here at Cantigny and we’re going to keep telling it for decades to come.”


Luci Creative led the exhibit development, design and production management for the project. Ravenswood Studio fabricated and installed the exhibits. Northern Light Productions, Unified Field, Creative Technologies and Brave New Pictures developed the interactive and media content. Chicago’s Pepper Construction served as general contractor.


The 11 vintage U.S. Army tanks outside the First Division Museum also reopened on August 26. All of them have been cleaned and painted with historically accurate markings. Tank park renovation includes new plantings, walkways, seating and lighting. The grand staircase and entry plaza outside the Museum’s front doors are new, along with other hardscape details surrounding the building. A picnic shelter south of the Museum is nearing completion.


The First Division Museum’s reopening represents a key early milestone in Cantigny’s ongoing revitalization effort, Project New Leaf. The five-year project, funded by the McCormick Foundation, includes major updates to Cantigny Park’s gardens, grounds and facilities.


At Cantigny and in the community, the First Division Museum touches thousands of people every year, making America’s military history accessible and thereby strengthening our democracy and its defense. The Museum is a tribute to all who served and continue to serve to protect our nation’s freedom.


More information is online at fdmuseum.org and cantigny.org.

Preview Photos

Entrance to the Duty First Exhibit
Medal of Honor Display
A piece of the Berlin wall
Guests interact with new exhibits