In the fall of 2021, United Way of Metro Chicago, with the support of founding sponsor Peoples Gas, launched the United Neighborhoods Equity Fund (UNEF), our philanthropic commitment to addressing systemic barriers and creating more equitable investments and opportunities in our communities.

Historic disinvestment in Black and Latinx communities throughout Chicago has led to current racial, social, and economic issues impacting families and residents in the city’s South and West Sides and south suburban region. Small Black and Latinx-led nonprofits in these areas often face challenges connecting to funders, building rapport, and securing and sustaining support for culturally relevant strategies. This has led to significant disparities in investment in these transformative organizations.

UNEF is our response to reducing this funding gap and advancing equitable investment. The inaugural UNEF cohort of 10 grantees was announced in September 2021, with each awarded $50,000 of unrestricted funds over a two-year cycle to be used according to the needs of each nonprofit. Grantees also receive two years of intensive capacity-building support from DePaul University’s nonprofit management program, and opportunities to network with corporate partners, funders, and each other.

“The first cohort of UNEF exemplifies both a high-quality caliber of local Chicagoland nonprofits and represents those who truly know their communities best,” said Sean Garrett, president and CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago. “We’re thrilled to be working side by side with these organizations in hopes that, together, we can strengthen the fabrics of the neighborhoods they serve.”

Supporting grassroots community-based programs is vital to building neighborhoods where all families can thrive. The UNEF grantees live, work, and intimately know their communities’ biggest challenges and greatest opportunities. They are working in unison toward common goals to strengthen their neighborhoods in the areas of economic and workforce development, education, mentorship, health and wellness, safety, justice, journalism, and more.

As UNEF enters its second full year, applications for the second cohort will be extended to be more inclusive of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)-led organizations as we remain committed to creating more equitable investments and opportunities in our communities so that all people can thrive.

In addition to founding sponsor Peoples Gas, UNEF is made possible with the generous support of corporate sponsors Nicor Gas, UL, and Target.

“What we want to do at Centro Sanar is build on joy. We build on care, community, and connection by making mental health access not only sustainable, but accountable to the communities we support.”

Edwin Martinez, Executive Director, Centro Sanar
UNEF Grantee, 2021–2023 Cohort


Meet more UNEF grantees and watch their videos here. Check back periodically as more videos will be added in the months ahead! 

Learn more about UNEF and how we’re committed to advancing equitable investments and opportunities in our communities.