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$7 Million Investment in Local Organizations Will Holistically Support Chicago Youth Through Learning Recovery and Mental Health Initiatives

Written by A Better Chicago on Oct 12, 2021

$7 Million Investment in Local Organizations Will Holistically Support Chicago Youth Through Learning Recovery and Mental Health Initiatives

A Better Chicago invests funds as part of Chicago Design Challenge to identify programs that could be adopted city-wide

CHICAGO – One month into the third school year rocked by COVID-19, a local venture philanthropy fund focused on supporting Chicago youth from cradle to career today announced more than $7 million in multi-year grants to seven organizations across the city to help Chicago youth recover from learning disruptions and promote wellbeing in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The initiative, the Chicago Design Challenge, is managed by A Better Chicago, a nonprofit that fights poverty by investing in ideas, programs, and leaders serving youth from low-income communities. The project is in collaboration with The University of Chicago Education Lab and The Chicago Public Education Fund. Ultimately, A Better Chicago hopes to work with the initiative’s core partners, the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), to identify opportunities for system-wide adoption of the programs. In the next month, A Better Chicago will host two online events with the grantees and experts to discuss bold ideas to overcome the challenges students are facing now that the school year is underway.

“Chicago students are back in classrooms, but addressing the prolonged learning disruption and trauma of the pandemic – especially for our low-income and Black and Latinx students – requires new thinking and programs,” said Beth Swanson, CEO of A Better Chicago. “The Chicago Design Challenge grantees will pilot programs that equip students to process trauma and address unfinished learning with the goal to roll out the most successful programs to students across Chicago. The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for Chicago educators and our students that give us an opportunity to rethink how we can ultimately set our students up to succeed and to thrive.”

Earlier this year, each finalist received a planning grant to fully develop their initial innovative pilot programs over the summer. The following organizations will receive support over the next two to three years:

  • Alternatives, Inc. will receive funds to reimagine school-based supports around trauma and mental health to ensure young people have access to the resources they need after a year with limited support.
  • Chicago HOPES for Kids will receive funds to grow its middle-school aged Literacy Learners program to include increased support to students in transitional housing outside of homeless shelters, with the goal of giving students skills and confidence to graduate high school.
  • Juvenile Protective Association (JPA) will receive funds to expand its Connect2Kids program that assists children from distressed communities to overcome obstacles from trauma and loss and improve their social-emotional well-being by helping teachers become protective factors for their students.
  • Leading Educators will receive funds to generate a model for supporting schools to implement CPS’s new Skyline curriculum, partnering with school, network, and external stakeholders to document learnings for systemic adoption.
  • Lion’s Pride Mentoring will receive funds to develop a peer-to-peer mentoring model with a robust social emotional curriculum and trauma-informed approach that utilizes teachers within high schools to train and execute the program model.
  • Roosevelt University will receive funds to create a Metropolitan Chicago Tutoring Corp to improve K-3 literacy and social and emotional learning skills through tutoring.
  • VOCEL (Viewing Our Children as Emerging Leaders) will receive funds to launch an Early Educators for Thriving Children Fellowship for Pre-K/Primary teachers in CPS, including group-learning, individual school consultation, cross-cohort knowledge sharing, and supportive relationships.


In the coming weeks, A Better Chicago will host two events featuring the grantees alongside other experts in a discussion about how to address the hurdles to success for our city’s students.


Mental Health Matters: Innovating to Serve the Whole Child

Thursday, October 14 @ 12:30 p.m. CT

Moderated by Ric Estrada, CEO of Metropolitan Family Services and member of A Better Chicago’s board of directors


  • Bessie Alcantara, Executive Director, Alternatives, Inc.
  • Colleen Cicchetti, PhD, MEd, Executive Director, Lurie’s Center for Childhood Resilience
  • Karen Foley, Executive Director, JPA
  • Marshall Hatch, Jr., Co-Founder and Executive Director, MAAFA


More Than a GPA: Innovating to Build a Pathway to Success

Wednesday, October 27 @ 12:30 p.m. CT

Moderated by Janice Jackson, EdD, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and member of A Better Chicago’s board of directors


  • Aarti Dhupelia, Vice President for Undergraduate Education and Dean of the Undergraduate College
  • Jasmine Gilstrap, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Lion’s Pride Mentoring, Inc.
  • Marin Gjaja, PhD, Managing Director and Senior Partner, Chicago, Boston Consulting Group
  • Allison Slade, EdD, Director of Instructional Leadership, Roosevelt University


The Chicago Design Challenge is supported by a diverse group of donors, including Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin, the Crown Family Philanthropies, the Chicago Community Trust, the Chicago Education Equity COVID-19 Response Fund, the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation, the Adtalem Global Education Foundation, the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, the Chicago Bulls, and the Christopher Family Foundation.


More information about the initiative is available at

About A Better Chicago

A Better Chicago is fighting poverty by leveraging the collective power of Chicagoans who want to make our city more equitable for everyone. We raise funds through public donations and direct those resources to support low-income, underserved communities. We find high-potential, high-impact programs and leaders that serve young people from cradle to career. Then, we invest both dollars and strategic support to empower organizations to grow and make an even greater impact. We know that giving our young people the tools they need to thrive—steady access to essential needs, holistic social-emotional supports, a world-class education, a family-sustaining wage—can lead to breaking the cycle of poverty for this generation and generations to come.


Since 2010, we have raised more than $50 million, invested in dozens of nonprofit organizations and supported over 100 capacity-building projects—ranging from strategic planning to leadership development—to strengthen the organizational capacity of our grantees. In total, our portfolio serves over 43,000 youth annually in the Chicago area. Learn more at

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