Posts

Showing posts from 2020

Creating Opportunities for Youth in Little Village

Image
For over 30 years, Central States SER, a workforce development and education organization in Little Village, has helped thousands of individuals achieve their academic and career goals to improve their quality of life. For Youth Program Manager Adrean Vargas, his connection to the organization spans back to his own youth. “I grew up in Pilsen with these types of afterschool programs, including Saturday and summer school programs. They were my life saviors, my escape and where I felt safe,” said Adrean, who participated in GED programming at SER as a teenager. “Being part of the LGBTQ community, I made it my mission to create those safe spaces for people like me who need an escape from home. My job is to make a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable.” SER works with individuals of all age ranges, as it offers various workforce development programs, such as job training and financial coaching, and youth programs ranging from mentorship to summer employment for teens. “As th

Increasing Economic Opportunity through Agriculture

Image
Everyone deserves to have a good job, and everyone deserves to eat well. That has been the vision of Growing Home since its founding in 2005. As the first high-production USDA-certified organic farm within city limits, Growing Home uses agriculture to inspire healthy living, increase economic opportunity and empower the Englewood community. The organization provides nutritious food and food education to the community as well as a farm-based training program that has helped over 500 people with employment barriers find new career paths. The training program offers participants, or Production Assistants, opportunities to develop transferable skills, work experience, readiness support and mentorship. Growing Home harvests over 200 varieties of vegetables between each of its farms. Each piece of produce is packed, sold at one of its farm stands or delivered to residents in nearby communities. “I learned about Growing Home’s training program through my daughter’s preschool. I wasn’t sur

Providing Pathways to Careers in Health Care

Image
As an alumna of a high school operated by Instituto del Progresso, former participant of various educational programs and previous volunteer, Diana Alpizar exemplifies the family style approach that is recognized as one of Instituto’s strongest qualities. Through its adult education courses, public charter high schools, nursing college and career pathways programs focused on healthcare, manufacturing and retail, the Little Village-based organization is known as a key leader in advancing and improving the lives of the Latino and immigrant communities. In her current role as the director of college and academic affairs at Instituto, Diana works on the recruitment and admissions operations for the Basic Nurse Assistant Program (BNAP) and the Associate Degree in Nursing Program (ADN) offered through Instituto College. Through the Career Pathways in Healthcare program, the organization also offers opportunities for individuals to help them prepare for careers as certified nursing assistan

Providing Emergency Resources for Families

Image
When Veronica Sanchez joined the Chicago Commons team in March 2020 after moving on from her human resources job in the for-profit sector, she did not anticipate she would need to pivot to working remotely only a few days into her new role as a result of the COVID-19 statewide stay-at-home order. “I had to shift from having an office and being on the field to operating remotely. Shifting successfully and remaining engaged with our clients are some of the things I’m most proud of,” said Veronica, an Employment Coach and Workforce Development Coordinator at Chicago Commons. Chicago Commons is 126-year-old social service organization with the mission of empowering individuals, families, and communities, primarily Humboldt Park, Pilsen, Back of the Yards, and Bronzeville, to overcome systemic barriers so future generations can thrive. As an Employment Coach, Veronica offers support to over 800 families across four of Chicago Commons’ early education centers. She also coordinates Pathwa

Saving Local Businesses in Greater Englewood

Image
For 36 years, Tess Porter has owned and managed Tess’ Style Shop at the intersection of Garfield Boulevard and South Ashland Avenue. She’s seen iconic, name-brand businesses — signs with golden arches and burger crowns — come and go. She’s seen children walk by, stop in, grow up and have their own children do the same. She’s hired locally, given generously and waved at thousands of passers-by as she reinvested, time and again, into her business. Everyone knows that Tess’ Style Shop is the place to go in Englewood for beauty and grooming services and supplies, for women and men, behind big, plate-glass windows. Everyone including looters, who in the heat of the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, broke Tess’ beautiful big windows, entered her store and ravaged it terribly. “It was heartbreaking. I cried,” said Tess. “It was hard because I’ve been here a long time. I felt like they not only should have known who I am, but that they should’ve had a little bit more respect fo

Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce Restoring Local Businesses

Image
Small business owners know the necessity of networking: Mixing with other entrepreneurs, swapping business cards and sharing ideas can make the road to success a little more even and a little less lonely. But a global pandemic changes everything. “Before COVID, we would host a happy hour event at a local business, provide refreshments and tell everyone to bring business cards,” said Felicia Slaton-Young, the co-founder and executive director of the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce. “There’d be music and networking, and we’d also make time for everyone to introduce themselves, give a one-minute pitch and say what they want to achieve from the event.” Everything has been different this year, noted Felicia, who established the Chamber in 2015 and has grown it to more than 50 members, largely through canvassing business corridors and networking. The pandemic was this year’s first blow to Englewood businesses, many of which are restaurants whose revenues plummeted during weeks of she

Workforce Development for Immigrant Communities

Image
Located between the Marshall Square and Pilsen neighborhoods, Instituto del Progreso Latino has been a significant pillar in workforce development and advancing education among the Latino community. In addition to their career pathways programs centered around healthcare, manufacturing, and retail, the organization also operates two public charter high schools and a nursing college. The community-based organization was founded in 1977 to help advance and improve the lives of Chicago’s immigrant and Latino communities through education, training, and employment, while still preserving their cultural identities. “I was the only Latina in the majority of my classes in college and felt very isolated. None of my peers looked like me. It made the statistics about Latinos having high youth dropout out rates and low college enrollment rates very real for me,” said Yesenia Cervantes, the Dean of Career Pathways and Community Affairs at Instituto. By the time she graduated, Yesenia knew she wan

Strengthening Community Relationships

Image
The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), which currently has 45 member institutions, including local Catholic parishes, schools, and a hospital, strives to enable families on the Southwest Side of Chicago to improve life in their neighborhoods by building relationships across racial, generational, and faith differences, finding common community concerns, and acting collectively on solutions. “There’s an increased recognition that you can’t win by focusing on one community issue alone. It requires the interconnection between all the different aspects of the work. Rather than pointing to great work in schools, continuing to acquire and rehab homes, and working to reduce violence, what’s most striking to me is how they happen in relation to each other,” said Jeff Bartow, Director of the Southwest Organizing Project. Through collaborative efforts by SWOP and its partners, the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago campaign has been working to repair the physical and social damage caused by th

Helping Families Adapt to Online Learning

Image
When Bonnie Kisielewski and her family participated in Chicago Commons programming through a partnership with her elementary school, she couldn’t have imagined the social services organization would still play a significant role in her life decades later. “My connection to Chicago Commons is quite the story! I attended a Chicago Commons pre-school, and my family used to attend the family summer camp before I joined the organization as a camp employee and then as a teacher after college,” said Bonnie. In her current role as the Education, Diverse Learner & Mental Health Compliance Manager, Bonnie provides technical assistance and training to the education staff in the areas of education, disabilities and mental health. Her work helps teachers achieve excellence in their overall education practices. Bonnie fulfills a dual role as she is also an adjunct instructor in the Child Development Department at the City Colleges of Chicago, which allows her to use her experience in education

Connecting Adult Learners with Resources for Education and Employment

Image
The Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition was formed in 2003 to advocate for the improvement of adult literacy programs. Today, the organization works closely with workforce development organizations and gathers resources for adult education organizations to increase their capacity. The CCLC strives to help underserved adult learners improve their quality of life and become economically successful through educational programs involving technology and health literacy, the Career Pathways program, and continued literacy advocacy. When the CCLC recognized the declining number of adult education programs on the South Side of Chicago, which approximately 250,000 adults could benefit from, the organization took action to launch the South Side Career Pathways Collaborative in 2019 and created an organized career pathway system for the community. “My role as the Mid-South Career Pathways Navigator is to connect 12 adult education and workforce development organizations to increase their capaci

Growing Food and Careers through Urban Agriculture

Image
“I didn’t know there was a farm in the hood .” Fred Daniels hears that a lot. As the site manager at the Growing Home farm in Englewood, he wishes more people knew about this community resource. “Our doors are always open to support. It’s more than just our training program and making sure people get a job. It’s getting to see people blossom into a different person. And, growing some of the best food one can get.” Growing Home is a nonprofit organization on the South Side of Chicago working to help people find meaningful, sustaining careers through agriculture. Through its training program, participants are involved in every aspect of farm production including planting, harvesting, packaging and selling to customers across the neighborhood and in Chicago. Participants, who are referred to as production assistants, also work with Growing Home staff to improve access to healthy food for underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. Before the pandemic, Growing Home sold produce every Thursday

Unifying Communities in Uncertain Times

Image
When the COVID-19 statewide stay-at-home order was put in effect in March 2020, the team at Central States SER, a workforce and education organization in Little Village, had to think strategically about how to maintain their connections to the young people they mentored without their usual in-person interactions, which are an important component of their work. “One of the biggest challenges was losing contact with a lot of our youth because they were struggling to pay their phone bills. I was so used to seeing them in person and whenever they needed something, they would just come to the office. Many of our high school students were struggling to keep up with their education because everything was remote. Many of their parents lost their jobs and family members were dying due to COVID-19. It all came down so quickly and so heavy,” said Joseline Calderon, the Reconnection Hub Manager at SER. “The McCormick funding helped us distribute emergency funds and care packages to some youth wh

Democracy Program Grant Opportunity

Image
The Essentials Through 5pm CT on Monday, October 5th, 2020 the Democracy Program is accepting Letters of Inquiry (LOI) to support programs and organizations working in our three Focus Areas : Strengthen Local Journalism, Engage Youth Civically and Invigorate Public Institutions. Grant requests may be for work in any Focus Area and should be over $50,000. How to Apply for a Grant Visit the Democracy Program’s “Apply for a Grant” page where you will find our funding criteria (e.g. you must be a 501(c)(3)nonprofit), a timeline for our review process, and a link to the online portal through which you must submit your LOI. What is an LOI? The LOI is the first stage in our two-stage application process for evaluating grant requests. The first stage of the process serves as an introduction for the Democracy Program staff to your organization and the work you propose to undertake during the grant period and how it aligns with our strategy. The LOI provides helpful information on: Adm