Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Through Heartland Alliance, Kimberly is Thriving as a Mother and Sister

For those of us who have lost a parent, sadness and emptiness can feel overwhelming. Imagine losing your mom as a teenager and then having to raise your younger siblings, making sure they remain healthy, have clothes to wear, and are succeeding in school.

That’s Kimberly’s story. But it’s just part of the story.

As the children in her family blossomed, Kimberly fell further behind. She placed their needs in front of her own, without regard to her own personal success and happiness. Then when her partner became physically abusive, she made an incredibly tough decision – leave or continue to be victimized and exposing her children to an increasing amount of danger.

She left.

In a shelter, she connected with Heartland Alliance, a partner and grantee organization of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. As one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, Heartland Alliance works in communities around Chicago to serve those who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety. Heartland provides a comprehensive array of services in the areas of health, housing, jobs and justice – and leads state and national policy efforts, which target lasting change for individuals and society.

Her caseworker worked to restore Kimberly’s sense of dignity, helping her find housing, getting her re-enrolled in school and learning parenting skills.

Today, Kimberly is studying to become a social worker, hoping to someday help other individuals who are victims of abuse and neglect, and giving people a renewed sense of hope.

Heartland Alliance aims to achieve lasting change for their clients. It’s with that same goal, along with her own drive, passion and sense of optimism that will help Kimberly’s and her family experience the happiness they deserve.

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation partners with Heartland Alliance to build safe, stronger communities. Together we can help Chicagoland shine brighter. Donate now.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Building Cantigny's Future

by Matt LaFond, Executive Director, Cantigny Park

About a year ago, we announced major revitalization plans for Cantigny, the former home of Robert R. McCormick in Wheaton. We didn’t have a name for our project at the time, only big plans for the estate’s gardens, grounds and museums.

Project New Leaf is still years from completion, but progress came quickly in 2017. Just before Labor Day, the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park reopened after a 10-month renovation. If you’ve had a chance to visit, we hope you agree that our world-class military museum is better than ever—as an educational resource and as a tribute to those who served or serve today.

“Better than ever” aptly describes our goal for Cantigny Park overall. Through Project New Leaf, the McCormick Foundation is investing to ensure a superior guest experience for current and future generations of visitors.

Colonel McCormick, our benefactor, would want nothing less. We honor and share his vision for Cantigny as a community gathering place for learning and recreation.

More progress is on the way. Next spring our new farm-themed playground will open to visitors, followed by a grand reopening of the redesigned Display and Pond Gardens. These areas will be signature attractions at Cantigny for many years to come.

Our landscape design partner for Project New Leaf is Sasaki Associates from Boston, the same firm responsible for the new Chicago Riverwalk.

Changes are in store for Robert R. McCormick’s former residence as well. We envision the mansion becoming much more than a museum. Ideas under review include spaces for meetings and receptions and creating opportunities for civic learning and social engagement. Structural work on McCormick House is ongoing as we preserve one of Chicagoland’s most cherished historic landmarks.

As Project New Leaf enters its second year, we thank our guests for their patience and understanding. The park will stay open throughout 2018, and current plans call for the return of favorite events such as our popular outdoor symphony concerts and LEGO Train Show.

This is truly an exciting time in Cantigny’s history. The staff is energized, and feedback from park visitors is positive. They see and sense that a good thing is getting even better.

With much more work ahead, we hope for a light winter and early spring!

Schools Play Definitive Role in Students' Civic Development

by Shawn Healy, Program Director, Democracy

As a former high school teacher, I believe deeply in the premise that formal education can shape students’ civic development. The sustenance and success of our democratic experiment is dependent upon each generation being knowledgeable about both the issues of the day and the institutions of government, possessing the skills necessary to work together to resolve collective problems, and the belief that civic participation is both valuable and impactful.

The Foundation certainly understands that schools play a vital role in cultivating engaged and effective citizens. In 2015, the Foundation and other statewide partners helped pass legislation that requires all high school students to complete a semester-long civics course effective with the Class of 2020. Through our statewide civic learning and engagement work, including the implementation of the new course and the Illinois Democracy Schools initiative, the Foundation provides guidance and support for how high schools and educators can incorporate civic learning across disciplines.

Recently, I was asked by the American Political Science Association to write a chapter in a book entitled Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines. I highlighted the Foundation’s work with the Illinois Democracy School initiative and the related supports that must be in place in order to sustain a successful civic learning environment for students.

My research demonstrates that schools with sustained, systemic commitments to their students’ civic development have a handful of traits in common including: (1) strong civic mission statements and shared leadership in their pursuit; (2) challenging curriculum with traditional and innovative civic learning practices woven across grade levels and subject areas; and (3) leverage reciprocal relationships with parents and the surrounding community. Although these schools have room to grow in other areas, these indicators are vital to sustaining and systematizing school-based civic learning.

The chapter also looks at how civic learning and engagement opportunities in high schools (and even in the lower grades) help to strengthen the pipeline to college. Students who engage with civic learning practices, at a younger age, not only earn higher grade point averages but also have higher retention rates and are more likely to complete their college degree. They also demonstrate improved academic content knowledge, critical thinking skills, written and verbal communication proficiency, and leadership abilities. Challenges are acknowledged, but opportunities abound, as colleges and universities have an important civic mission that must ultimately form a P–20 continuum as we prepare students for informed, effective participation in our democracy.

Building an Education Media Ecosystem in Chicago

by Cornelia Grumman, Program Director, Education

Too many compelling education stories in the Chicago area are simply not getting told. Stressed, constricted newsrooms have increasingly limited resources. Expertise in complex issue areas such as early education is in limited supply. Meanwhile, students, educators, and families stand at the center of sweeping changes that carry profound implications for our communities and Illinois’ future. Residents, thought leaders and policymakers need to hear – and be informed by – compelling accounts of what is happening inside classrooms, higher education institutions and community early learning centers, and how those stories illustrate larger systemic issues or trends.

To help boost understanding of education issues, philanthropic, education and journalism leaders have come together to successfully attract Chalkbeat, an award-winning education news organization, to Chicago. Chicago, along with Newark, N.J., was selected by Chalkbeat’s national board as the next city to set up a news bureau.

Chalkbeat works in partnership with existing media to complement and bolster education news reporting. Its journalists will scrutinize and explain education policy and practice to inform decisions that result in better outcomes for children and families, especially those in living in communities of concentrated poverty.

Chalkbeat expects to officially open a mid-sized bureau of three to four journalists in Chicago in early 2018. Chicago joins six other bureaus whose regions are benefiting from the online media model’s innovative, sophisticated, and incisive education news coverage. These cities include: New York, Denver, Detroit, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.

Fighting on Both Fronts

by Don Cooke, Senior Vice President, Philanthropy

This year marks 100 years since the United States entered World War I. To commemorate this important event in our history the McCormick Foundation and WTTW partnered to present to the people of the region a series of five vignettes titled Chicago World War I Moments. This series highlights the many roles of Chicago and Chicagoans in the “war to end all wars.”

Out of this project surfaced a remarkable, untold story of the 370th Infantry Regiment, one of the only African-American regiments that fought in combat during WWI. Fighting On Both Fronts: The Story of the 370th, a documentary produced by WTTW with the Foundation’s support, first aired on November 11 and tells the story of the nearly 3,000 unsung heroes, largely from Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, who fought in combat during WWI. They were men who believed that if they fought for the principles of democracy overseas it would translate to equality for them back home – equal rights, equal treatment, and equal opportunities. Fighting proudly alongside French troops, the 370th had distinguished themselves in battle. The irony, however, was that they faced the racist policies of the American military itself, and when returning home, the hero’s welcome they received was short-lived, as the warriors of the 370th faced deep racism at home.

View the whole episode to learn about a group of men whose bravery and accomplishments have been long overlooked.

New Program Strategy Helps Strengthen Chicagoland Communities

Since February, the Foundation’s Communities Program has been working with more than 20 local and national organizations with expertise in poverty alleviation and race equity work to discuss ways to improve our grant and development strategies to achieve the greatest impact in the communities we serve. Through these discussions, we have decided to focus on (1) adopting a Race Equity lens, supporting programs and policies that respond to community voice and address the root causes of poverty and systemic racial bias and (2) develop a holistic grant framework that responds to the complex mix of barriers experienced in Chicago’s most under-invested communities.

Recently, the Communities Program developed a new fund, the McCormick Foundation Communities Matching Fund, to help create long-lasting impact in Chicagoland communities. Through the Matching Fund, the Foundation, along with frontline community organizations and community partners, will work to fight hunger, homelessness, and other urgent needs facing Chicagoland’s most vulnerable families and children. Donations to the Fund will have greater impact with a 50% match from the McCormick Foundation, allowing the money raised to work even harder to help kids and families that need it most.

In November, the McCormick Foundation Communities Matching Fund’s launched its first campaign, Shine Bright Chicago. Visit our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages to learn how our new fund is helping to create long-lasting impact in Chicagoland communities.

Here in the City of the Big Shoulders we know that working together generates the best results. Our benefactor, Col. Robert R. McCormick believed we all can be leaders with the power to change the future. For over 60 years the Foundation, along with are partners and grantees have kept thus beliefs alive. Join us in helping to build a stronger, safer Chicagoland for all residents.

Learn more at

Making Illinois the Best State for Veterans to Thrive

by Megan Everett, Veterans Program Director

As 2017 quickly comes to a close, the Veterans Program continues to build and strengthen relationships with our grantees that serve veterans and military families through partnerships with Chicagoland businesses and nonprofits throughout Illinois. This year we have invested more than $2 million in Illinois-based organizations and national organizations that are doing this important work in Illinois. We strive to work alongside our partners, and public and private donors to support impactful work that best supports Illinois veterans.

The McCormick Foundation Veterans Program supports high-quality, integrated, and coordinated services in the areas of education, employment, health and wellness, along with providing capacity and technical support for veteran-centered institutions.

To ensure Illinois is the best state for veterans to come home to, we believe collaboration and coordination among partners, in addition, to delivering high-quality services to veterans and their families is of the utmost importance. We are consistently overwhelmed by the amazing work being done by so many top-notch organizations throughout the state. Just like every organization, our resources are limited so we cannot support every program; however, where we cannot provide financial resources, we support networks for organizations to plug into creating the most efficient coordinated care for veterans.

Below is a little bit about the many organizations we awarded grants to this fall. This is not an exhaustive list of our grantees but rather a snapshot of the larger initiatives we are supporting. A comprehensive list of the Veterans Program grantees can be found at


Supporting employment and educational pathways for veterans through: educational advancement, workforce development, entrepreneurship, financial stability, and building cultural competencies will ease under-employment and unemployment, strengthen benefits and services and increase the value of veterans and their families as assets to their local communities.

Bunker Labs
Bunker Labs builds local, thriving, and connected networks to offer resources, education, introductions, and support to emerging veteran entrepreneurs. Bunker Labs engages successful entrepreneurs and community leaders to serve as mentors and connect veterans with one another by providing a physical location (in 1871) for programs, office space, and networking.

The McCormick grant to Bunker Labs will support a Community Outreach and Support Manager position, to grown the community of military veteran entrepreneurs that the Bunker serves in Chicagoland. This role will ensure that the Bunker’s community and resources are accessible to military veterans and families from diverse communities, especially those living on the south and west sides of Chicago, and those who may need accommodations for disabilities or other barriers to access.

National Able
Veterans Forward

National Able provides direct employment services to some of the hardest to serve veterans, including chronically unemployed and homeless, by providing job training workshops, technology training, coaching, and supportive placements.

The grant from McCormick supports general operating expenses and will help the Veterans Forward team to develop a strategic plan to integrate veteran services within the workforce system by collaborating more closely with the American Job Center (AJC) where all government agencies refer new veterans returning to Illinois.

The Chicago Lighthouse
The Veterans Employment Empowerment Project

The Veterans Employment Empowerment Project was initiated in 2014 with an initial investment from the McCormick Foundation. The project provides transitional and/or temporary employment with added employment supports and case management to aid veteran in permanent placement. Most employment that they provide is in one of their call centers that has the contract for the Illinois Department of Transpiration and several healthcare companies.

The McCormick grant will continue to enhance their services to veterans, in addition, to helping them create an internship program for 30-40 veterans which will serve as a pipeline into their employment opportunities and/or assisting veterans into other employment opportunities.

Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL)
Veterans Higher Education Affinity Group (VHEAG) and Commercial Club Veterans Working Group (VWG)

CAEL’s work is designed to help veterans and service members gain applicable credentials for meaningful civilian careers. They work with various sectors within education, business, community and government to promote collective impact.

The McCormick grant will continue to support these collaborations. The VHEAG continues to be the region’s best-positioned and most effective primary source for professional development in working with student veterans. The Commercial Club VWG is a diverse “community of knowledge,” working to address the most important issues facing Chicagoland veterans. This employer community come together to shares lessons and successes, enhances partnerships and collaboration, and provides guidance on best practices to strengthen the veteran employment landscape. The VWG ensures that the critical employer perspective is represented, and that employers are active engaged in supporting veterans.

Behavioral Health and Wellness

Supporting direct services (clinical, psychological and health and well-being) and related systems will increase veterans’ and their families overall physical and mental health, life satisfaction, and connectedness to community.

Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB)
Illinois chapters and administration

Recognizing that a critical piece in the transition from service member to veteran is the ability to connect with the community, Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veteran by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

Team RWB has been operating five chapters in Illinois located in Chicago, Joliet, Marion, Peoria, and, Springfield. The McCormick grant will support each chapter’s operations and allow for broader outreach strategies to enhance membership.

YMCA Metro Chicago Youth and Safety Violence Prevention (YSVP)
Urban Warriors

This program is built on a mentoring concept, bringing combat veterans and youth who have experienced trauma together to share common life experiences, primarily surviving in hostile environments and striving to cope adaptively. It’s trauma-informed approach fosters a unique supportive relationship between military combat veterans and youth.

The program was originally piloted in 2015. The McCormick grant will allow the YMCA to provide essential outreach to coordinate veteran recruitment and training, and refer veterans to external services when necessary. Being a youth-serving organization, they have not had the capacity to do this and have recognized that these supports will further strengthen the program.

The Mission Continues
Chicago Platoons

Through volunteerism in fellowships and service projects (called service platoons) veterans gain new skills and connections that help them achieve personal and professional success. Likewise, communities see long-term positive effects from having a hard working, highly trained veteran volunteer forces to help tackle their toughest challenges over a period of years.

As The Mission Continues has grown and evolved they have added third pillar of community impact. McCormick funding will enable them to add a service platoon (to the existing three platoons – each platoon consists of 15-20 veterans) and tap into our knowledge about community initiatives to identify where platoons and Fellows can best contribute to community impact and assisting communities in creating healthy, sustainable communities with empowered community partners.

Systems Navigation

Supporting pathways to coordinated outcome-based programs will provide transitioning service members, veterans and military families ease of access to supportive services.

Illinois Joining Forces

Illinois Joining Forces was established in 2012 by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and the Illinois Department of Military Affairs (IDMA), is a statewide, public-private network of veteran- and military-serving organizations working together to improve services to Illinois’ military and veteran communities. IJF’s initial mission was to map the plethora of resources and services available to veterans and their families. IJF’s goal is to increase awareness and connectivity among its member organizations so that they and those we serve, can better navigate the system of support.

McCormick’s continued support provides general operating expenses. Coordinated, community-based collective impact is currently viewed as the best practice for effectively delivering services to veterans and military families. Through strategic partnerships with federal, state, county, and city veteran agencies, military bases, non-profit and private service providers, and philanthropy, IJF is positioned to be the backbone organization for coordinating veteran services in Illinois.

DePaul's Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP)
Multi-faith Veterans Initiative

The five-year Multi-faith Veterans Support Project, renamed the Multi-faith Veterans Initiative (MVI) was initiated by a planning grant from McCormick Foundation in May 2014. MVI has collaborated with faith-based organizations on the west, mid-south, far south, and north sides of Chicago and connected 185 non-repeat veterans to health, employment, housing, and VA services. The MVI is sustained with the support of DePaul’s Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP). By galvanizing faith-based organizations around veterans’ services, MVI is filling the gap that exists between the VA and veterans in creating access to service alternatives and link veterans to opportunities to engage with their communities.

Capacity Building and Technical Assistance

Supporting capacity building and technical needs of institutions serving veterans will strengthen their ability to deliver higher quality, integrated services to veterans within Illinois.

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine
The Veterans Metrics Initiative

This is an innovative public-private research collaboration that will produce evidence-based data and outcome metrics relating to veteran transition services. The rationale of the study is to develop evidence-based methods to assess what works to improve veteran’s long-term outcomes. This 5-year longitudinal study is being conducted by The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine. We supported the first two years of the study in partnership with 12 other funders. McCormick has committed to supporting this study for another three years.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Olivia Pays it Forward with New Moms

Meet Olivia. She’s one of the great staff members at New Moms, an organization that aims to interrupt the cycle of poverty and create strong families.

As a partner and grantee organization of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, New Moms focuses its assistance on the most important areas of family life including stable housing, job training and family support.

What’s unique about Olivia is that she was also once a client of New Moms.

Several years ago, Olivia found herself homeless, pregnant and living in a shelter. Hope was nowhere in sight, and any sense of happiness in life seemed like a distant dream. Enter New Moms. They surrounded Olivia and her new baby with everything they needed to transform their lives.

Each day, New Moms assists new mothers and offers support as she finds a safe place to live, gets a job, and becomes a strong leader for her family. They restored Olivia’s sense of hope and confidence to build a fulfilled life.

At New Moms, 100 percent of the young moms who access their services live in extreme poverty. Sixty three percent come from homes where their mothers were teen parents.

New Moms addresses the health and safety of the new mother and their precious baby, understanding that kids need to build life skills in stable housing without the threat of eviction or homelessness. They provide hands-on experience, linking new mothers to permanent jobs, and leads them toward economic independence.

By instilling moms with the skills they need to be great moms, they are empowering young moms to transform their stories from ones of hopelessness to lives filled with stability, health, and vision for a strong future. Just like Olivia.

Make stories like these possible by donating to the McCormick Foundation Communities Matching Fund. Please give today!

Teamwork Englewood Helps Provide Ray with a New Lease on Life

Ray was raised by a single mom. Even as a young boy, Ray believed his role in the house was to provide for his mother and keep her safe. He took the only path he thought he could—he turned to life on the streets.

Imagine if you felt that was your only option? This is the reality for thousands of local youth ages 16 to 24, who are disconnected from school or work, and lacking hope for a bright future.

If only Ray had found an organization that could have given him and his mother the support they needed to avoid a life of heartache, hopelessness, and stress.

Now a grown man with a daughter of his own, Ray has a second lease on life. Through the support of Teamwork Englewood he found the support needed to turn his life around.

As partner and grantee of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Teamwork Englewood is a community organization that unites nonprofits serving Englewood residents and works toward the common goal of building a stronger community.

Thanks to Teamwork Englewood’s Re-Entry Services Department, Ray now has a full-time job with Dakota Rim Assembly plant. Not only does he get a regular pay check but now has access to health and retirement benefits, counseling services, and other resources that provide a better quality of life for him and his daughter.

Make stories like these possible by donating to the McCormick Foundation Communities Matching Fund. Please give today!