The New Generation of Philanthropists Investing in Chicago’s Rising Stars

From STEM + coding programs for girls, to mentorship for athletes sidelined by injury, to volunteer doula support: 11 unique rising-star nonprofits serving #Chicago receive grants from @GiveYoung Tweet This

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This summer, young philanthropists from across the Chicago region gathered at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower to celebrate 11 nonprofits working on the front lines to transform lives and communities.

The organizations were being honored with grants from the Young Leaders Fund (YLF), a diverse group of young professionals who volunteer their time as Chicago’s next generation of philanthropists. Each year, YLF members allocate grants to emerging nonprofits in three giving areas: arts & culture, child development & education and community & economic development.

“Being part of YLF has been life-changing. It’s one of those rare organizations where you get to see the big picture and the local level at the same time,” says Melanie Wang, co-chair of the Young Leaders Fund.

“Many of the nonprofits we support continue doing inspirational work, and you see them grow and thrive long after YLF. I think it’s that experience that makes our network so strong. It brings together people who have a desire to learn and see the value and impact of their work for years to come.”

Three adults, one holding a baby, stand talking in front of a wall of colorful paintings
Nonprofit leaders and young professionals gathered this summer to celebrate the Young Leaders Fund, an initiative that empowers the next generation of philanthropists. YLF’s members research emerging organizations, conduct site visits, evaluate funding proposals and award grants—like the 11 they announced this evening.


The 2018 grant recipients are:

Arts & Culture

Comfort Station, a multi-disciplinary art space in the heart of Logan Square that hosts weekly musical performances, film screenings and other events that are open and accessible.

I AM WE, a nonprofit creating community and cohesion in Chicago’s most disinvested neighborhoods by building bridges between youth and community stakeholders. YLF funding will enable the organization’s youth participants to showcase and amplify the reach of “I See You,” a film they created to address bullying, depression and self-harm.

Olive Tree Arts Network, a youth arts organization that uses creative expression as a catalyst for cross-cultural dialogue, cooperation, understanding and peace. The organization has primarily partnered with elementary schools, but their grant will enable them to develop new curriculum to reach middle school-aged children and older youth.

Unsilence, a nonprofit that creates empowering learning experiences for youth and the public, and teaches educators and community leaders to spark dialogue, support critical thinking and build empathy to inspire healing and social change.


Childhood & Education

Asian Youth Services, a nonprofit that provides students in Albany Park with high-quality educational experiences and long-term mentoring relationships that will equip them to succeed in school and in life.

She Is Code, an Evanston-based nonprofit that teaches tech and STEM concepts to young girls through coding workshops, hackathons and robotics lessons. The organization’s programming aims to ensure more women and minorities enter tech industries.

Sidelined USA, a mentorship program geared to serve athletes permanently sidelined by health conditions or career-ending injuries.

A woman stands behind a podium speaking into a microphone
Executive director Annie Rezac accepts a YLF grant on behalf of Unsilence, an organization that creates learning experiences to help youth build empathy and inspire social change. Since its launch in 1994, YLF has awarded more than $1 million to nearly 200 nonprofits across the Chicago region.


Community & Economic Development

Become, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides culturally-responsive program evaluation and community engagement services.

Chicago Volunteer Doulas, a birth justice organization that provides comprehensive doula support for vulnerable communities in the Chicago region. YLF funding will help ensure that more volunteer doulas are able to provide educational, physical and emotional support to women during pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Kirkwood Foundation, a nonprofit that partners with schools and organizations in the Chicago region to expose students to mentors in a variety of high net worth careers. Through its programming, students learn the process for becoming a lawyer, doctor, engineer and entrepreneur.

Recipe for Change, a nonprofit that provides mentoring and guidance to detainees in Cook County’s jail and prison systems through culinary, fine arts and life skills training. With the support of YLF, the organization will be able to expand its culinary programming to the women’s division.


Unique to the YLF experience is the hands-on learning members gain by being involved in the grant process from start to finish. Members learn philanthropy by researching organizations, conducting site visits, inviting grant proposals and later presenting them at a “pitch session” to be evaluated by their peers. This hands-on training provides members with a broad, professional skill set and an immersive look at the Chicago region and its needs, as well as the inspiring nonprofits building solutions to address them.

Voting members of YLF make an annual donation, which builds the endowment that sustainably generates the grant dollars allocated for disbursement each year. Since its launch in 1994, YLF has awarded more than $1 million to nearly 200 organizations with annual operating budgets less than $250,000.

It’s all been guided by YLF’s founding principle: Collective giving can be leveraged for a bigger impact than any of us can make alone. As Dr. Helene Gayle, The Chicago Community Trust’s president and CEO, noted during this year’s reception, “Small amounts pulled together can make a huge difference.”

A woman walks to the front of a conference room while the seated crowd applauds
Latisha Thomas, founder and CEO of I Am We, approaches the podium to accept a grant. This funding will allow the program’s young participants to showcase “I See You,” a film they created to address their experiences of bullying, depression and self-harm.


For many of the nonprofits that receive grants from YLF, these funds give them new opportunities to grow their organizations and programs, and increase their impact. Many of the grant recipients that evening thanked YLF members for taking the time to rally behind their organizations and walk them through the grant process. And as the evening went on, another truth became more apparent: Each YLF member’s life was also transformed throughout the process.

“I joined YLF because I wanted to make Chicago better,” outgoing YLF co-chair Erin Roberts said. “I set out to change Chicago and it changed me.”