When you look at the Chicago region, what do you see? Do you see the challenges that we face? Or do you see a promising future?
At United Way of Metro Chicago, we’re committed to seeing this promise, a future with stronger, more equitable communities where all people can thrive. This can only happen when we come together – businesses, government, philanthropy, individuals, nonprofits, and the community. Because when we’re united, positive change is truly possible.
Community leaders and residents live, work, and intimately know their neighborhood’s biggest challenges and greatest opportunities. That’s why United Way launched our Neighborhood Network Initiative. For more than a decade, our place-based, resident-led approach to neighborhood transformation has been working alongside community partners throughout Chicago and the suburbs to bring their community-led visions and plans to life.
The Robert R. McCormick Foundation saw the early success of the Neighborhood Network Initiative, and, in 2018, they joined United Way to co-invest in the Networks.
“[Supporting United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative] was an opportunity to have a stronger coordination in the communities, learn from each other, and have a greater impact,” said Robert R. McCormick Foundation President & Chief Executive Officer Timothy P. Knight.
Then, following increased visibility, awareness, and two unprecedented investments from BMO in 2019 and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in 2020, the Neighborhood Network Initiative expanded into Englewood, Far South, and Garfield Park.
And in 2023, the Neighborhood Networks grew to 17 following a generous leadership gift from the Nicor Gas Foundation and a key partnership with Cook County to create the Transforming Places Program. The new suburban Networks include Elgin, Ford Heights/Chicago Heights, Harvey, and Park Forest/Richton Park.
“In government, we must figure out how to invest in the communities that have been disinvested in, marginalized, and left behind. That means you must have a place-based strategy to address the challenges that those communities face,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Clearly, United Way is best-in-class for executing on place-based strategies, so the opportunity to collaborate was clear.”
Building thriving communities can only happen when we more equitably invest in these communities. In 2021, United Way, with support from founding sponsor Peoples Gas, launched the United Neighborhoods Equity Fund to support small nonprofits led by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals and operating in historically disinvested communities on the city’s South and West Sides and in the south suburban region.
“When United Way first approached us about the United Neighborhoods Equity Fund, we knew right away that this was a great match for us,” said President of Peoples Gas & North Shore Gas Torrence Hinton. “We know these organizations provide meaningful impact locally to the folks who live in those neighborhoods, specifically organizations who are led by Black men of color.”
Each grantee receives $50,000 of unrestricted funding, over two years, to be used according to the needs of the organization, plus capacity-building support and networking opportunities. For some small nonprofits, this partnership not only helps them continue providing essential services, but it can even allow them to grow.
Urban Male Network, which provides positive mentorship for young men of color in the Chicago area, is part of the 2022–2024 cohort of the United Neighborhoods Equity Fund. Thanks to the partnership and funding, Urban Male Network’s executive director, Dr. Marlon Haywood, was able to move from running his organization on a part-time basis to making it his full-time priority.
“We have added five locations since we have received the funding from the United Neighborhoods Equity Fund and making more partnerships with city, state, and county agencies so we can ultimately make more of an impact with the young men that we are working with,” Dr. Haywood said.
Increased Access to Resources & Opportunities
Neighborhood transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Which is why we’re in it for the long haul through our place-based, equitable approach. We also know how important it is that our neighbors can meet their basic needs, like access to fresh food, affordable housing, quality health care, and more.
In 2020, during the height of the global pandemic, people needed help – and quickly. Within just a few days of the world shutting down, The Chicago Community Trust and United Way came together to establish the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, with support from the City of Chicago, foundations, businesses, and individuals. By the time the fund closed in early 2021, we had raised more than $35 million from 6,000 donors. These funds supported more than 400 nonprofit organizations providing emergency services to people most impacted by COVID-19.
“The Covid Relief Fund demonstrated how effective we can be when we work together,” said President & CEO of The Chicago Community Trust Andrea Sáenz. “We’ve brought that spirit and that perspective to all subsequent work we’ve taken on at the Trust. We reach out to United Way and other partners every opportunity we get because we know that together we accomplish so much more than we could ever do alone.”
When residents need support, not just during the pandemic, they often either don’t know where to turn or face hurdles in navigating the complex web of resources available. Which is why Cook County, the City of Chicago, and United Way launched 211 Metro Chicago earlier this year.
This free, confidential helpline is available 24/7/365. Individuals simply call, text, or web chat with a trained, local Resource Navigator, who assesses their needs and connects them with health and social services. Resource Navigators are kind and compassionate, assisting individuals during some of their most vulnerable times of need.
“Government needs to have partnerships with philanthropy and the business community if we’re going to effectively serve the people of Cook County,” President Preckwinkle said. “I’m grateful that United Way has taken the lead on [211 Metro Chicago], bringing everyone together to put this system in place and making it happen.”
What does our next chapter look like? In our city? Throughout the region? At United Way, we’re committed to being part of the next chapter in which our community thrives, our neighborhoods rise, and our people have the opportunities and access to the resources they need and deserve.
Our job is to bring together the full community – the public sector, the private sector, the nonprofit community, donors, volunteers, everyone who wants to be a part of it – and make this vision a reality.
Our ask to you is to come join us. Join us as leaders in this community to create a stronger, more equitable city and region. That’s what our work is all about. The power in partnerships.