Why We Serve: Reflecting on 104 Years of Commitment to the Region

Share this article Tweet about this on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Email this to someone

In the early 1900s, the Chicago region was undergoing a great transformation. The expansion of the railroad system and a boom in manufacturing made the region one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. Many rural workers, immigrants and Black Americans leaving the South looked to Chicago as a place of opportunity and a chance to build a future. As the region’s population grew, so did the need for charitable assistance.

When The Chicago Community Trust was established in 1915, founders Albert and Norman Harris saw the pivotal role a place-based foundation could play in not only providing charitable relief to a growing population in need of social services, but also strengthening the fabric of the region for future generations.

Over the last week, the Trust joined hundreds of community foundations across the country to celebrate Community Foundation Week. Since the early 1900s, community foundations have worked towards a common goal: improving the quality of life for residents in the geographic areas they serve in. Here in the Chicago region, we do this by deploying our resources where there is great need, supporting our grant partners who are working throughout our communities, convening leaders across sectors in order to tackle complex challenges and acting as philanthropic stewards for our donors who make our work possible.


Archival black and white photo of the Michigan Avenue Bridge
A southward view of the Michigan Avenue bridge, shortly after its completion in 1920. As the landscape of needs has evolved in our region over the past century, the Trust has evolved to meet those needs. Photo credit: Chicago History Museum


Over the years, the Trust has provided supports for residents living with the effects of the Great Depression and the Great Recession, increased food security across Cook County, support work to improve access to quality education and brought to fruition tens of thousands of affordable housing units. As the landscape of needs evolves in our region, the Trust evolves to meet these needs.

Currently, we are focused on one of the greatest barriers to economic growth and social well-being for our region—the racial and ethnic wealth gap between Black, Latinx and White households. This wealth gap is not just harming communities of color—it is hurting the entire region, as we deal with increased public safety challenges, a sluggish economy and declining population. As a community foundation committed to strengthening the region and supporting efforts that empower residents to live up to their potential, this is precisely the issue we need to be tackling now.

Since the early 1900s, community foundations have worked towards a common goal: improving the quality of life for residents in the geographic areas they serve in.

This commitment to the Chicago region is not possible without the generosity of our donors who have partnered with us throughout the years. Whether donors give to us through their estate plans that allow our endowment to grow, or they use their donor advised funds to realize their philanthropic passions, their contributions are invaluable. In turn our subject-matter experts, who know our communities and the organizations making an impact, help donors make the most impact with their philanthropic dollars.

Research shows that the Chicago region is the most philanthropic region in the nation—residents are passionate and dedicated to making their neighborhoods strong. It is because of that passion and dedication that the Trust is proud to serve and work alongside our many partners that together will bring about a connected, thriving, equitable region with shared prosperity for all.