Monday, March 25, 2019

No Small Matter

No Small Matter is the first feature documentary to explore the most overlooked, underestimated, and powerful force for good in America today: early childhood education. Through poignant stories and surprising humor, the film lays out the overwhelming evidence for the importance of the first five years, and reveals how our failure to act on that evidence has resulted in an everyday crisis for American families. No Small Matter will be debuting in Illinois this summer as part of larger campaign to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities faced in early childhood.

A Statewide Legal Aid Hotline Established to Serve Illinois Veterans

In 2013, an amendment to the Access to Justice Act created the Illinois Access to Civil Justice Council, with the mandate to create a pilot statewide legal assistance hotline and coordinated network of legal support services for military personnel, veterans, and their families. This effort is funded by a $2 filing fee on all civil filings until 2020. The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) was charged with the implementation of this network now called the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN).

Why is this important for the veteran community? Civil legal problems destabilize families and can be barriers to benefits, housing, and employment. The top civil legal needs fall into the broad categories of housing, family, and consumer law issues. In addition, veterans often need assistance with VA benefits and appeals and discharge upgrades.

IL-AFLAN provides free legal aid services across Illinois utilizing a network of 10 legal aid organizations and law school clinics. In its first year, IL-AFLAN has helped 2650 people, provided 3000 services, provided $1.28 million in benefits to clients, and prevented homelessness for 111 clients. The Veterans Program is proud to partner with IEJF and IL-AFLAN to help connect this vital service to the communities across Illinois.

“As far as I know, IL-AFLAN is the most comprehensive civil legal aid network for veterans and members of the military who cannot afford any attorney in the country. In some states there are programs that handle a few areas of law, or that cover a county or two, but IL-AFLAN handles any civil legal issue, including VA benefits appeals and discharge upgrades, across the entire state of. In fact, IL-AFLAN solves Illinois based problems even if the client isn’t currently in Illinois, when, for example, we are working with active duty military who are deployed.” – Zach Zarnow, Program Director of IL-AFLAN

To learn more about IL-AFLAN and its affiliated network partners visit: If you or a veteran you know is need of civil legal aid services call the hotline directly at 855-452-3526

Illinois General Assembly Debates #CivicsInTheMiddle Grades

Fresh off successful implementation of a high school civics course requirement, the Illinois General Assembly is considering driving high quality civic learning down to the middle grades. House Bill (HB) 2265 would require a semester of civics within grades 6, 7, or 8, including instruction on government institutions, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes.

The dilemma: Middle school students are ill-prepared for informed and effective civic engagement in our democracy.

The solution: High-quality civic learning opportunities in Illinois middle schools for ALL students can help reverse this trajectory, building civic knowledge and skills.

  • The more knowledgeable and confident a person is in their own civic competencies and skills, the more likely they will vote regularly, participate in a range of civic engagement activities, and believe that government is a source for good.
  • By requiring a semester of civics in middle school infused with proven civic learning practices, HB-2265 will build students’ civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions, leading to lifelong, informed, and effective engagement in our democracy.

Why now? With the new high school civics requirement firmly in place, Illinois is well-positioned to strengthen civic learning in the middle grades.

  • Since October 2015, the McCormick Foundation has provided more than 1,300 hours of professional development to more than 10,000 teachers statewide.
  • These professional development opportunities have improved teachers’ feelings of competence in key instructional strategies, and a Spring 2018 survey shows strong civic outcomes among students as a result of course exposure, including enhanced knowledge and skills. Students are also more likely to report engagement in a range of civic behaviors (see graph below).

The plan: Like implementation of the high school course, the McCormick Foundation proposes a three-year, privately-funded $3 million plan ($1 million annually) to support middle school teachers, schools, and districts to incorporate a civics course in grades 6, 7, or 8.

  • Ongoing teacher professional development opportunities, both in person and online, are central to our proposed effort. They will be offered in partnership with civic education nonprofits and institutional partners, including universities and regional offices of education.
  • To ensure that expertise on best practices in civic education is embedded in Illinois middle schools, we intend to recruit and train instructional coaches in each school and/ or district serving students in grades 6-8.
  • In addition to the McCormick Foundation’s ongoing investments in youth civic education and engagement in Illinois ($4.2 million in grants in 2018), our course implementation efforts have an annual operating budget of $1 million. We pledge to contribute an additional $400,000 to this effort each year and are working to raise the balance through local philanthropic partners.

The problems that plague our state and nation are generational in nature. By investing in the civic development of our youth, we will empower them to resolve these issues, building a better Illinois and a heathier democracy.

HB 2265 furthers this cause. It passed the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on School Curriculum and Policies on March 20 and advances to the floor with an April 12th deadline for consideration. Follow the Illinois Civics blog for further updates and the #CivicsInTheMiddle hash tag on Twitter.

Reclaiming Southwest Chicago

Guest Blog by Chris Brown, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP)

When 500 people gathered at St. Adrian Church in 2017 to announce the next phase of the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign it was both the culmination of years of work and the declaration that there was so much more to do. In a community that had been devastated by the foreclosure crisis, people would have been forgiven if they thought the neighborhood was dead and moved on. Instead, most of them stayed and fought for a better place to live, work, and play. They came together that day in May to say they were there for the long-haul.

This begs the question: Why? Mostly, it was because they had built a network of people in the community, people like themselves that shared a common interest in the schools and safety and immigration and employment options. They knew this because they had participated in a Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) community organizing campaign. They had met one to one with neighbors and fellow parishioners and parents and other stakeholders to talk about each other and what motivates them to participate in public life.

Through these meetings, they built a strong social network. Stakeholders kept meeting and developed a Quality of Life plan for Southwest Chicago. They secured resources and they moved, together, into action. To date, together, they have leveraged more than $40 million in investments into the community. The Reclaiming campaign alone has transformed more than 80 buildings into 100 units of affordable housing, seen crime decrease by 55%, and seen all the local schools improve by at least one CPS level. Reason enough to come together and to keep working, together.

Golf for the Greater Good

In Wheaton, Cantigny celebrates 30 years of golf excellence and growing the game.

To many, Cantigny Golf’s scenic and challenging 27 holes may appear to be well over three decades old. The layout has a mature look and feel, thanks to the stately oaks and hickories lining its lush fairways. Can it be only 30 years since Andy North struck the inaugural tee shot?

It’s true. Cantigny Golf was dedicated on June 5, 1989. Amid many spectators, a 9-hole exhibition match was played that day by North, the two-time U.S. Open champion, and three top amateurs from Illinois. Two of the latter were reigning 1988 high school champions—an early sign that youth would be well served at Cantigny Golf. (This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9-hole Cantigny Youth Links.)

In its January 1990 issue, Golf Digest named Cantigny Golf the “Best New Public Course in America.” The honor was a tribute to course architect Roger Packard and it put Cantigny on the map for golfers throughout the region. Glowing local press coverage also fueled demand for tee times.

The late 1980s and 1990s were a boom time for golf. The golf industry has slowed since then but Cantigny still ranks among the top courses in Chicagoland. This summer, July 16-18, Cantigny will host the Illinois State Amateur Championship for the fifth time. Spectators are welcome!

It’s important to know, however, that the McCormick Foundation has always positioned Cantigny Golf as more than a fine test of golf.

Managed by KemperSports since 2014, Cantigny believes in the game’s power to improve lives. For example, more than 800 local students have participated in Cantigny’s caddie program, and for some the experience is life changing. Sixteen Cantigny caddies have earned the prestigious Evans Scholarship.

In addition, more than 1,200 kids are introduced to “the game of a lifetime” every year through Cantigny’s junior golf clinics and Youth Links. Cantigny also partners with The First Tee of Greater Chicago and Illinois Junior Golf Association. Besides being fun, junior golf promotes camaraderie, character building, responsibility and sportsmanship. Cantigny instructors emphasize these values right along with proper swing technique and putting drills.

Reflecting the McCormick Foundation’s commitment to veterans, Cantigny Golf—through the free-to-join Cantigny Honor Club—offers special green fees and other benefits to veterans and active duty members of our armed services. It also supports organizations that assist veterans and children with special needs through donated facility use and staff time. Nonprofit partners include Revelation Golf, Sunshine Through Golf and Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.

Finally, Cantigny Golf demonstrates a strong commitment to the environment. The 300-acre property is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, a status achieved through responsible land and water management, and with high-quality natural areas for wildlife.

Golf has changed a lot since Cantigny’s splashy debut 30 years ago. Check out the equipment and technology now offered at the Cantigny Golf Academy! But the traditions that define golf’s enduring greatness are intact and celebrated along Mack Road in Wheaton. For those who love the game, and those wishing to learn it, Cantigny awaits.

For more information, or to book a tee time, please visit