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Turning Our Vision into Reality

Written by Beth Swanson on Sep 14, 2020

Our city, our country, and our world are all in a moment of reckoning. In the midst of a global pandemic, America is also confronting a history of anti-Black racism and the resulting systemic inequities. These overlapping crises have only exacerbated and magnified the societal inequities organizations like A Better Chicago already knew existed. Our young people need us now, more than ever, to step up and use whatever influence we possess to push for the change we want to see in our city. 

As some of you may know, I am a working mother of three school-aged children who are currently navigating this new reality. And, even on our toughest days, I find myself keenly aware of the position of privilege my family is in. I want every child in Chicago to have the opportunities and benefits that my children have. I want this moment of reckoning to last long enough to shift mindsets, reshape policies, and restructure institutions so that our city’s—and our world’s—Black children know beyond a doubt that their lives are valued.

I write this to you from a place of hope, even in these uncertain times. I am inspired and encouraged by what we have been able to do together to support our neighbors in need throughout this pandemic. Our Emergency Relief Fund distributed $2.5 million in grants to 46 phenomenal local organizations that provided more than 600,000 youth and their families with financial support, essential goods, and innovative educational services. We’ve seen youth leaders step up as architects of their own futures, drafting policy recommendations for the decision-makers in our city. Nonprofits who have always been on the front lines in our most underserved communities have taken on more and more responsibility as ongoing overlapping crises impact millions of Chicago youth and families.

In 2019, we made a commitment to funnel even more resources and capacity-building support to community-based initiatives and leaders of color who are woven into the neighborhoods they serve. We spent the end of the year accumulating resources for our newest addition to our portfolio, our Catalyst Fund. This fund supports community-embedded leaders with innovative approaches to serving youth across the South and West sides of the city. While we never could have imagined what 2020 would bring, our work to create the Catalyst Fund positioned us to respond to COVID-19 with an enhanced sourcing, vetting, and investment strategy that helped us amplify our impact. Additionally, our Emergency Relief Fund efforts have built a strong pipeline of potential Catalyst grantees.

As we look to the upcoming school year, and even further to the future of our city, we know that the organizations in our portfolio will be essential. It will be these organizations that provide Chicago’s Black and Latinx youth with everything from access to basic needs, to educational and career support, to the tools to deal with the trauma of this moment. The nonprofit sector has never been more critical. Our educators, counselors, leaders, donors, and even our young people, are being called on to think differently and boldly about the world we want to create and the systems we need to reimagine in order to build a more equitable city. 

In the last decade, we have been able to accomplish so much together. We have brought more than 2,200 generous donors to this critical work, delivering over $40 million in unrestricted funding and management support to dozens of local, youth-serving nonprofits. In 2019 alone, we invested $4.73 million in our Growth and Venture fund grantees and supported 20 capacity-building projects, from strategic planning to talent strategy and development. We are counting on you, our A Better Chicago community, to help us make an even greater impact in 2020 and the years to come.

We are eager to apply the lessons learned through this crisis, as well as our continued commitment to bringing a racial equity lens to every aspect of our work, to deepen our impact in Chicago. As we prepare to make our first round of Catalyst Fund investments and equip the organizations in our current portfolio to recover and thrive in the challenging months and years ahead, we know this work is complex and ongoing. 

The vision we have for the future is a bold one, and our team is driven by the generosity and courage we’ve seen these past several months. We may not know what challenges lay ahead, but we know that an investment in the tapestry of impactful nonprofits and homegrown leaders that serve our youth is an investment in our future. We are more committed than ever to our mission and our vision of a more equitable Chicago where Black and Latinx youth are empowered, nurtured, and uplifted. It will take every one of us to make this vision a reality, and we are grateful to have this community of changemakers alongside us as we build a better future for us all.                        

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