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Respond Now works to prevent hunger and homelessness in the south suburbs. The Harbour offers safe, stable housing to young mothers and their children. Erie Neighborhood House provides comprehensive support to help immigrant and low-income families thrive. These are among the organizations receiving grants from The Chicago Community Trust’s Unity Fund, which pools contributions from donors such as Joe and Betsy Roche to assist nonprofits that meet the essential needs of under-resourced families in our region.

The Roches, of Naperville, recently made a substantial gift to the Unity Fund, which they say is a good fit with their giving philosophy. Betsy was a psychology major-turned-nurse, and Joe was an educator-turned-counselor. Now retired, “We tend to give money for the basics–food on your table, clothes on your back, a roof over your head–because of our history of working with people who are really in need,” said Betsy.

The Roches made the gift through their Donor Advised Fund (DAF) after consulting with their Trust philanthropic advisor, Senior Director of Philanthropic Services Kristin Carlson Vogen. They appreciate the simplicity of donating to multiple causes through their DAF—but mostly, they like knowing that dollars donated through the Trust go to the most effective organizations and initiatives. “We put our money in the hands of people at the Trust because they’re keeping track better than we are of where the immediate needs are, and which organizations are most effective at meeting those needs,” said Joe.

Photo: Joe & Betsy Roche

The Trust established the Unity Fund in response to the 2008 recession. Since then, the Fund’s strategy has shifted to meet the region’s most acute crises. Anna Lee, the Trust’s senior director of community impact, said that the Fund currently supports organizations responding to pandemic-era needs, aligned with the Trust’s overall strategic focus on closing the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap.

“Even though we’re slowly moving more toward a post-COVID, ‘back to normal’ environment, for many families it’s still very much a pandemic. They’re facing a lot of instability,” said Lee. “Access to quality healthcare–specifically mental health–as well as food insecurity, housing instability, and safety and well-being continue to be issues, particularly in Black and Latinx communities.”

As donors consider their year-end giving, the Trust provides numerous options, said Joan Garvey Lundgren, senior director of resource development. Like the Roches, donors with a DAF can leverage the Trust’s expertise about the region’s most pressing needs as well as longer-term solutions. For example, the Roches are also giving to the Trust’s Pre-Development Fund, which provides funding to Black and Latinx community developers to cover early costs for projects that will bring jobs, housing, and commercial development to communities of color. The Roches learned about the Pre-Development Fund by attending a Trust Donor Dialogue on equitable real estate development and its critical role in addressing the racial and ethnic wealth gap at the neighborhood level. Donor Dialogue events are open to all donors at the Trust.

“The Trust is a resource for philanthropists of all stages and capacities. We offer opportunities for donors to leverage our in-house expertise, networks, and grantmaking and to connect with other donors,” said Lundgren.

The Trust raised more than $1.5 million for the Unity Fund in fiscal year 2021, enabling funding for some 28 grantees.

“The Chicago Community Trust has and always will invest in the region’s most valuable asset: the people. We can do more with more,” said Lee. “Every day I’m in conversations with organizations and service providers who share story after story about people who need timely support to become stable. Once stable, they can live a life that is healthy and well and contribute to a broader community. That’s our ultimate goal.”

For more information about giving to the Unity Fund, contact Adele Nandan with the Trust’s Philanthropic Services department.