In celebration of Black Philanthropy Month in August, the Trust is featuring a series of conversations with Black philanthropists making their impact across the Chicago region.
For Cynthia Plouché, the importance of belonging has guided her personal and professional path. Having achieved a successful career in investment management, Cynthia long felt a calling to help young women of color achieve their highest potential through education, financial literacy, and mentoring.
In 2021, Cynthia established a donor advised fund at the Trust in support of the Alzenia Project, a nonprofit committed to providing grant support to nonprofit organizations harnessing the intergenerational power of women. Named after her maternal grandmother Alzenia Favors Hunter who believed, “It’s never too late to do what one wants to do in life!” Cynthia is committed to uplifting young women and inspiring a sense of belonging and resilience.
To date, her grantmaking and volunteerism have supported organizations that are:
Increasing participation of the underserved population in ballet through Brown Girls Do Ballet
Training Native American girls and women in STEM through the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation
Helping African American and Latinx tween and teen girls become effective communicators at home, school, and their future careers through the Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program
Providing inspiration, leadership, life and job skills, training, and job placement for youth re-entering the community after incarceration and at-risk young adults through Curt’s Café
Sparking the interest of a diverse population of high school girls into careers of ﬁnance through Rock The Street, Wall Street
Combining her interest in education, the arts, and volunteerism, as a long-time supporter of The Chicago High School for the Arts
Cynthia recently sat down with Nina Alcacio, director of public relations at the Trust, to discuss the importance of leveraging her voice to provide empowerment, belonging, and joy.
Nina Alcacio (NA): Could you share some background on your philanthropic journey with me?
Cynthia Plouché (CP): Seeing myself or hearing myself be called a philanthropist is strange because giving back has always been a part of who I am. How one chooses to give over the course of life may vary depending on your life stage. Early in my career, I gave through my time. It came naturally to me to go from giving my time to providing a little bit financially here and there. When I say I don’t consider myself a philanthropist, I would say it’s because I’m not giving millions of dollars to organizations. However, once you’re in the not-for-profit space for a while, you learn how meaningful even moderate amounts can be.
NA: You touched on this a little bit, [is giving back] something that was instilled in you or something you experienced?
CP: I think for me, I’m very aware of the points in my life where an organization or person was significant in the path I took. This experience is what pushed me to where I am in life today and what I choose to focus on through my giving. Common threads, especially now as I look back, inform the things I am most strongly pulled toward. It’s why my philanthropic focus is education, the arts, mentoring young women and women of color, and things that relate to the sense of belonging. In part because, for so much of my life and career, being one of the few, or the only, makes you keenly aware of what belonging feels like and knowing when it’s absent.
NA: Could you tell me about why you started Alzenia Project and how it helps you fulfill your philanthropic goals?
CP: Like many people, I came through the more recent years feeling this need to connect with others, to find a way to make my voice heard. During this time, I attended a seminar on institutional racism, which focused on how sometimes it feels like more work to accomplish the things you want because the system is not always programmed in your favor. As a result, I felt this need to establish a sense of community, so I organized a luncheon with some classmates to reconnect during our college reunion. During the luncheon, I felt this strong sense of belonging, and I wanted to figure out how I could keep that going. About a year later, I was approached by a friend who just said, “Maybe you should think about doing something special concerning this desire you have.” At the same time, I came across an article about my grandmother, who had graduated from college in 1968, 25 years after she had graduated from high school and 11 years before I would graduate from college. My grandmother represented this resilience in going after what you want. And so, it inspired the naming of the Alzenia Project and my commitment to lift up and help organizations that were doing good work.
NA: With so much uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and social justice issues at the forefront, why was the time right to launch the Alzenia Project in 2021?
CP: With so much negativity and demand for change, I felt it was my time to do my part to put some good back into the universe. I have three daughters who are in their twenties. This period felt like the joy had been taken from the world for them and that generation. For me, and through Alzenia Project, I’m trying to help put some more joy, empowerment, and positivity into the world.
NA: What do you think is the role of philanthropy or just giving in general in advancing societal change?
CP: It starts with the belief that ‘those who can, should’ because the world is not a level playing field. I think what philanthropy can do is help level the playing field. For me, I believe that when the collective voices of all those people who have varying philanthropic interests pull together, that’s where I see the light shine through the darkness. It’s how we move the world forward.
NA: Is there a philanthropic achievement that you feel most proud of?
CP: I feel most proud of launching the Alzenia Project because I stepped outside my comfort zone for it. I can tell you that I’m still nervous. Will it be a success, or will it not? Because I am self-funding my grantmaking through the Alzenia Project, I know that no matter what, I can each year give a reasonable amount to each of the organizations that I have identified.
NA: Is there a message you would share with someone who might be at the beginning of their philanthropic journey and may not see themselves as a philanthropist either?
CP: If you’re thinking about it, it means it’s in you. I think you live life trying to minimize regrets and do as much as possible. For me, it brings a lot of happiness and joy to give to other people. I think it’s just taking the plunge.