On May 5, young professionals from throughout Chicago gathered at Arciel to enjoy cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a stunning sunset view of the Loop.
But when the music started, all eyes were on the five figures at the center of the room: young dance students and their teacher, who led them through dynamic dances ranging from classic salsa moves to a Taylor Swift hula-hoop routine.
The group was showcasing skills from their mixed rhythm class at En Las Tablas, a fitness and dance studio in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood. With classes in English and Spanish, the studio has served thousands of people of all ages, building health and cultural awareness—as they say, “to help families pass on a little bit of themselves to their next generations.”
Their appreciative audience were members of the Young Leaders Fund, a philanthropic initiative of The Chicago Community Trust. The group pools charitable resources to make grants to outstanding grassroots nonprofits throughout Chicago—like En Las Tablas, celebrating their first-ever grant that night.
YLF invites the region’s young professionals to make an annual membership donation, which builds the endowment that sustainably generates grant dollars. However, for members who seek a more hands-on experience, YLF offers a rich connection to community.
Through three interest groups (arts & culture; childhood development & education; community & economic development) members have the opportunity to conduct site visits and evaluations, then make grant recommendations to the full YLF membership. This hands-on training in philanthropy provides an immersive look at Chicago’s neighborhoods, their needs, and their outstanding nonprofit assets.
Since its launch in 1994, YLF has awarded more than $1 million to nearly 200 organizations with annual operating budgets less than $250,000—and often, less than $25,000. As outgoing co-chair Joanna Evans explained, the fund provides “the support they need to take their organizations to the next level.”
“We see ourselves not as venture capitalists, but as venture philanthropists.”
The 2016 grant recipients are:
Chicago Youth Shakespeare, a program connecting thousands of young people each year with the works of Shakespeare. Their first-ever grant will support the summer Youth Ensemble Program, which builds community among high-school students across demographic boundaries.
En Las Tablas, a bilingual dance and fitness studio serving youth and families on the northwest side. This YLF award was the studio’s first-ever grant, which they will use to form a traveling dance troupe taking young performers throughout Chicago.
Outreach Family Services and Community Center, a mentoring program for isolated children and youth in the Austin neighborhood. Their grant will support the program’s annual summer trip, taking their young clients to experience a new location outside of the city—often for the first time.
The Paper Machete, a weekly “live magazine” performance series blending journalism, comedy and storytelling at Uptown’s Green Mill. Their grant will help implement an accounting and payroll system which, as board president JC Aevaliotis explained, will “make us professional, make us sturdy, make us here for the long haul.”
Reflections Foundation, whose Polished Pebbles mentoring program prepares young women of color for career success through communication and workplace skills. Thanks to their grant, the program will provide uniforms so that all participants can take advantage of job-shadowing opportunities, regardless of their income or resources.
Urban Juncture Foundation, an umbrella organization for community resources like the Bronzeville Community Garden and Bronzeville Bikes. The grant will support the launch of Sister Cycles, a program training women and girls to fix bikes and thereby boosting health, mobility, personal empowerment and job creation.
VittleWise, a nonprofit working to rescue food waste and connect it with people in need. The grant will fund a second edition of their microwave cookbook, designed to bring healthier eating within reach for people with limited cooking resources: low-income housing units, shelters or food deserts.
The Waste Shed, a creative reuse center that diverts supplies from the waste stream and makes them available to teachers and nonprofits at affordable prices. With their YLF award—the center’s first ever grant—they will increase their education and outreach.
Many of the grant recipients that evening thanked YLF members for walking them through the learning process of how to apply for funding. While the grant dollars help propel an organization’s services to a new level, the building of grant writing skills and the endorsement from the Fund also build the capacity and the credibility to continue their growth.
As The Chicago Community Trust’s president and CEO Terry Mazany explained, “The essential services that people need, to be able to grab that ladder of opportunity: they’re being taken away from those in our community who need them most.”
And as small neighborhood nonprofits work passionately to fill that gap, they find “a pathway of possibility—because you believe in them.”