Promoting Wellbeing by Building an Infrastructure of Care

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Each one of us is both in need of care and a caregiver. Sometimes we are both at once, as many have acutely experienced during the pandemic. Parents and others balancing work, their own health, and caregiving for children or aging family members during COVID-19 experienced the fragility of the infrastructure of care that our society has created. According to Caring Across Generations, family members provide 80 percent of care, and 43.5 million caregivers are unpaid. These statistics underscore both how often the work of caregiving is obscured from the view of the public and how ever-present it is in our lives and our society, even when it is undervalued or maligned as obligation or gendered work.

I cannot help but think about caregiving in my own life as a pastor’s kid in my small town of 15,000 people in Southern Illinois. At the time, I did not always recognize caregivers as such. But in reflecting back, I see how they supported me and my larger family in promoting safety, encouraging trusted relationships and mentors, and enabling my parents to provide for my wellbeing through their employment. Our next-door neighbor was known as “Grandma Young.” We were always welcome to play in her yard or stop by for a visit. She was often caring for her granddaughter, which provided a playmate for my sister and me. Mr. Lang ensured that each day after school, I could cross Highway 13 to get to my house. I remember being in awe of the way he would stop semi-trucks with his simple stop sign. Then there were the formal and informal caregivers in my church growing up—Sunday school teachers, Vacation Bible School teachers, but to be honest, really anyone in the congregation. I grew up with a constellation of caregivers, which is something we all need to thrive.

As a young adult, I also had a growing awareness and understanding of power dynamics and institutional racism. My hometown is predominantly white. Looking back at my life, I recognize that my earliest relationships with people of color were often through my mother’s work. My mother was the executive director of a small nonprofit that provided transportation, hotel stays, and support groups to women and their children visiting the prison just outside the city limits. This caregiving was borne out of a Christian response to love the neighbor. It addressed the intentional void of care created by a criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts people of color. At the time, I was aware these families often traveled great distances or sometimes even re-located to my hometown so that their visits with their loved ones could be more frequent. I knew this caused financial hardship, stress, and grief. It wasn’t until I was much older that I could see that this model of caregiving was necessary because of racist, unjust systems that perpetuated themselves and created a cycle of trauma for the women and children who were part of it.

I look at all of these experiences and am grateful for the care provided and received, for learning that inspired an understanding and commitment to justice, and the people, paid or unpaid, who dedicated their time, energy, and heart to this constellation of care. As a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and civic leader, these experiences, the dedication to continuing to reflect, and the work for justice go on for me throughout my lifespan.

The Chicago Community Trust’s Addressing Critical Needs team recognizes the value and complexity of caregiving. Through our Promoting Wellbeing RFP, we were able to award 37 grants to organizations using family-centered or intergenerational approaches to improve outcomes for children and youth (0-24) addressing trauma, people with disabilities who are seeking increased opportunities for employment or education, and low-income aging adults who need supportive services. The racial and ethnic wealth gap impacts all parts of life, and the disparate outcomes show up in our ability as a society to care for each other and promote wellbeing. For these reasons, we prioritized place-based organizations in Black and Latinx communities, ones led by people of color, and organizations that advance community-led solutions.

For example, Breakthrough, located in East Garfield Park, is hyper-local in its approach. The organization focuses on a 40 block radius, a majority of its staff live in the surrounding community, and its leadership–the executive director, staff, and board–are majority people of color. Breakthrough uses a community wellness lens to offer integrated services and supports to people of all ages. This kind of care prevents risk and builds protective factors that enable children to process trauma and continue to grow and learn. This work, Breakthrough’s collaborations, and much more contribute to its vision of a safe, stable, engaged East Garfield Park where success is the norm and families prosper.

El Hogar Del Nino serves the predominantly Latinx neighborhoods of the Southwest Side with early childhood and school-age programming, home visiting, and family-centered support services. What sets El Hogar del Nino apart from similar agencies is its focus on supporting children with adverse childhood experiences, including housing loss and trauma, by giving priority enrollment to children with unstable housing. Its Family Support Services address the needs of the entire family through comprehensive workshops on topics such as workforce preparation, mental health, domestic violence, immigration rights, health and wellness, building credit, tenant and landlord rights, first-time home buying, and GED preparation.

With a grant from the Trust, HANA Center, working in the city and suburbs, will implement its Healing in Action project, engaging a range of culturally relevant, trauma-informed practices to promote the wellbeing of Chicagoland Korean, Asian American, and multiethnic immigrant community members. Engaging participants from its broad base of service and organizing programs, HANA will develop multi-generational healing and community-building initiatives that include youth and women’s Korean drumming groups, a racial justice support program, and storytelling opportunities. Through participation in these programs, community members will be rooted in their culture and lived experiences and together develop community-led tools and solutions to heal from trauma and support each other to live strong, healthy lives.

Click below to learn more about the 37 organizations that received a three-year, general operating grant through the Promoting Wellbeing competitive RFP process. These grant recipients are building the infrastructure of care that is necessary in the Chicago region. Listening to individuals, caregivers, and community members results in programs and services grounded in their needs. Viewing our systems and structures for care from their vantage point will highlight the existing gender and racial disparities that exist. Let us stay committed to the work ahead to transform them.

2021 Promoting Wellbeing Grant Recipients

Addressing Trauma for Children and Youth (0-24)

  • Albany Park Theater Project ($180,000)
  • Bright Star Community Outreach Corporation ($180,000)
  • Chicago Childrens Advocacy Center ($150,000)
  • Chicago Survivors Inc ($180,000)
  • Chicago Youth Programs, Inc. ($150,000)
  • Erie Neighborhood House ($195,000)
  • Firebird Community Arts ($150,000)
  • Friends Of The Children – Chicago ($150,000)
  • Gads Hill Center ($180,000)
  • Gary Comer Youth Center ($195,000)
  • GRO Community ($150,000)
  • Heartland Alliance For Human Needs & Human Rights ($225,000)
  • El Hogar Del Nino ($150,000)
  • Instituto Del Progresso Latino ($195,000)
  • Kuumba Lynx ($150,000)
  • New Life Centers Of Chicagoland ($225,000)
  • Night Ministry ($180,000)
  • Options For Youth ($150,000)
  • The Thresholds ($225,000)
  • YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago ($225,000)
  • Youth Guidance ($195,000)

Advancing Inclusion of People with Disabilities by Increasing Opportunities for Employment and Education

  • Center For Enriched Living ($150,000)
  • Center For Independence Through Conductive Education Inc ($150,000)
  • The Chicago Lighthouse For People Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired ($150,000)

Improving the Lives of Aging Adults with Supportive Services that Promote Wellbeing or Financial Stability

  • Claretian Associates Inc ($225,000)
  • Housing Opportunities & Maintenance For The Elderly Inc ($150,000)

Multi-Population or Intersectional Across the Three Above

  • Breakthrough ($195,000)
  • Casa Central Social Services Corporation ($180,000)
  • Centro Romero ($180,000)
  • Chicago Commons Association ($180,000)
  • Chicago Torture Justice Center ($150,000)
  • Chinese American Service League Inc ($225,000)
  • Connections For Abused Women And Their Children ($150,000)
  • Family Service & Mental Health Center Of Cicero ($150,000)
  • River City Community Development Center ($150,000)
  • Sga Youth & Family Services Nfp ($180,000)
  • The Hana Center ($225,000)