As she prepares for her next chapter as President of Spelman College, Helene Gayle reflects on her own legacy at the Trust, her hopes for the region’s future, and why she chose to continue her commitment to Chicago through the 1915 Society.
How do you view your legacy at the Trust?
Helene Gayle: I don’t necessarily view it as just my legacy, but I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as an organization in focusing our efforts on our goal of closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap. This goal has enabled the Trust, and our incredible partners and donors throughout the region, to come together with a vision we can all share and contribute to.
We’ve also really enhanced both the breadth and depth of our team and grown our resources to where we now have close to $5 billion in assets. As importantly, we’re thinking about how we are putting those assets to use. We’re looking not just at our grant dollars, but how we invest our dollars with diverse asset managers. We are also much more engaged with policy work and addressing the systemic barriers that led to the racial and ethnic wealth gap. I’m very proud to have been a part of this, and grateful to everyone who contributed to where we are now.
What are your hopes for the region’s future?
HG: I think Chicago has an incredible opportunity to continue to grow as a resilient region that recognizes when it has challenges and figures out how to find solutions. I think the ultimate goal of having a thriving, connected, equitable region is within our grasp. And I hope that in five, 10, 20 years from now, we will be able to look back see that the efforts we put in place really did have an impact on making this a more equitable and prosperous region.
Why was it important to you personally to join the 1915 Society?
HG: I felt that as the leader of this organization, it was important to lead by example. And the 1915 Society is an important statement of trust in The Chicago Community Trust. It doesn’t stipulate that you have great wealth to make serving Chicago part of your legacy. It represents the desire to contribute to building our region and keeping it strong. I’m very proud to be a member of the Society.
As CEO and president of the Trust, how important are endowment commitments?
HG: I really cannot over emphasize how important contributions to our endowment are to our ability to serve the needs of our community today and into the future. The bequests we have received over the last 107 years has allowed us to be there for our neighbors in need through both the Great Depression and Great Recession, increased food security across Cook County, support access to quality education, the COVID pandemic and, allows us to work to tackle the critical issue of racial and ethnic wealth gap. As the landscape of needs evolves in our region, the endowment allows us to evolve to meet these needs.
What does it mean to you that supporting Chicago will be a part of your personal legacy?
HG: The Trust is the first time I’ve had a job that is so intertwined with the city I live in. In a way, Chicago has been my job. I’ve become deeply engaged in this community, and wherever I happen to be, I will be a supporter of and a believer in this city and region. I want to feel like a part of me is always a part of Chicago, and through the 1915 Society I will continue to contribute to the region after I’m gone.