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Local nonprofits win MacArthur awards

Two local nonprofits are among organizations in fifteen countries announced Wednesday as recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

The Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University and the Southwest Organizing Project will each receive a $750,000 award from the MacArthur Foundation.

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Violence prevention: Corporate charity or citizenship?

Last year, community groups called on Mayor Emanuel and the business community to match the fundraising they did for the NATO Summit to fund youth programs in the neighborhoods.

Now, under the glare of national publicity for Chicago’s ongoing epidemic of violence, Emanuel has decided to deploy his famous fundraising skills to gather $50 million in corporate donations for violence prevention programs over the next five years.

Certainly, every effort to bring resources to desperate communities is welcome.  (And it’s churlish to point out that these folks raised nearly $50 million for NATO in a few weeks.) But is charity a substitute for good citizenship?

The Grassroots Collaborative is pointing out that Emanuel’s choice to co-chair the campaign heads a company that is profiting from controversial interest rate swaps that cost the city and the schools tens of millions of dollars a year.

Jim Reynolds is CEO of Loop Capital, which according to GC, has made $100 million in five interest rate swap deals with the city and CPS since 2005.

Interest rate swaps — also called “toxic rate swaps” by critics — are one of the wonderfully innovative financial products developed in the run-up to the financial crash a few years ago.  They provide set interest rates to cover variable returns on public bond deals.

Cost Chicago $72 million a year

But since the crash, the Fed has kept interest rates near zero, while local governments are locked into interest rates of 3 to 6 percent.  That costs Chicago $72 million a year; CPS loses $35 million a year on the deals, according to GC. (CTU has protested this arrangement.)

While applauding their “charity work,” GC notes, “Chicago business leader must address their role in creating the lack of resources for youth and communities in the first place.  They must stop gouging taxpayers and renegotiate these toxic deals.”

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New site puts individual faces on charitable giving

Doug has had some trouble with the law but has turned his life around, and is hoping to move from an internship at the CTA to a permanent position.  He’s incredibly proud of his children, including a son who’s a straight-A honor roll student in his first year of high school and a younger daughter who is starting to blossom.

“They’re the most important thing to me, and I really want them to have the best out of life,” he says in a video at, a new philanthropic social networking site.

If he could have anything, it would be a computer so his kids could do their homework at home and not have to “shift from home to home and library to library,” he says.

After his story was posted– along with an endorsement from an individual development specialist at the Cara program, where he’s a student – twelve followers kicked in amounts ranging from $20 to $220 and raised the money he needed for the computer.

Small donors have responded to requests for a bed, for CTA passes, and for job training fees.  Current posts at include several requests for help getting dental work done, along with a seamstress who needs a sewing machine.

The one-time needs they request help with are typical of the small hurdles that can block progress toward stability and success for low-income people, said Michele Larimer.

Requests come via partner agencies, which include Cara, Bethel New Life, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, and Family Focus.  Each request is validated in a statement and short video from a staffer at a partner agency, in addition to a video of the individual making the request.

The site launched December 1 and the response has been greater than anticipated, Larimer said.  Some families are incorporating it into their holiday giving traditions, she said.

A number of new requests for assistance will be added soon, she said.


A ‘pay to play’ transition

The Nonprofiteer looks at foundation funding for Rahm Emanuel’s transition – costs traditionally covered by a candidate’s campaign fund.

She calls it “inappropriate pick-pocketing,” and “doesn’t blame the foundations for ponying up, though she wishes they hadn’t….But the Emanuel administration-in-waiting should never have asked for that sort of tribute.”

There’s nothing new about “pay to play” around here, of course, but this is a notable innovation in charging for access, and it’s a less than auspicious start for a guy who likes to talk about “reform” so much.

Inspiration Corp. plans new cafe

At a time when many agencies for the homeless are struggling, Inspiration Corporation is planning a major expansion.

The agency is on track to open a second social-enterprise restaurant and job training center in Garfield Park next year, funded by a capital drive which is nearing its goal, said Diane Pascal.

Garfield Park Cafe, at 3504-18 W. Lake, will be modeled after Cafe Too, 4715 N. Sheridan, a neighborhood restaurant which provides job training and transitional employment in food service for low-income and homeless residents.

In addition to providing nutritious, affordable family restaurant meals to the general public, the new cafe will offer “guest certificates” for free meals, distributed through local agencies, schools, and churches to supplement family budgets or to encourage participation and achievement.  The group also plans to expand into catering at the new location.

Along with Cafe Too, Inspiration Corporation runs the Inspiration Cafe in Uptown and the Living Room Cafe in Woodlawn, where low-income residents can get free meals in a restaurant-style setting as well as access to a range of supportive services.  Services run from subsidized housing to open case management to free voice mail.

This week Inspiration Corporation announced a $300 thousand challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation, which will require raising an additional $500 thousand.  That would complete the organization’s $6 million capital campaign, launched in February of 2009.

While funds are going mainly to the Garfield Park Cafe – including full and clear ownership of the building that will house the restaurant, the group’s first real asset – the campaign includes a $650,000 sustainability fund to provide financial stability and reduce debt service expenses, Pascal said.

Despite the economic downturn, the group decided to focus its fundraising on the capital effort last year, she said.  She attributed the group’s success in part to the leadership and energy of its charismatic (and unpaid) founder, Lisa Nigro.  A former police officer, Nigro began offering sandwiches and coffee to Uptown’s homeless from her nephew’s red wagon 1989.  After moving to a van and then a bus, a local landlord offered here a one-dollar lease on a Wilson Avenue storefront, where Inspiration Cafe was opened.

Nonprofit Nation: Haiti, journalism

This week’s Nation has two reports on nonprofit issues:  In Haiti, aid is still slow in getting to refugee camps, as large relief organizations have ignored community-based organizations.  But “a group of Haitian community leaders [is] determined to force the international aid agencies to listen to their demands.”  Meanwhile long-term planning by the UN and US and Haitian elites, backed by Bill Clinton, focuses on a neoliberal agenda of bolstering export industries and bypasses reviving the nation’s once-thriving agricultural sector.

And as newsrooms shrink, think tanks like the Center for a New American Security have moved to fill the void.  With funding from the MacArthur Foundation and other philanthropies – and also from an array military contractors, from Lockheed Martin to KBR – the center gives commentators a cover of “bipartisanship” while pushing for a military buildup in Afghanistan and opposing withdrawal from Iraq.

Also at the Nation, John Nichols has a sober appraisal of the shortcomings of the healthcare reform bill, as well as possible strategies for reforming the reform.

Students raise thousands for Haiti

While media and public attention has largely moved on from the devastation of Haiti, students at a dozen west suburban schools are staying the course in a remarkable effort that has raised thousands of dollars to help their peers in Haiti.

With a goal of raising $90,000 by the 90-day anniversary of the January 12 earthquake, Students Hearts for Haiti is holding a benefit concert with the Nashville-based band We The Living this Thursday evening at Lyon Township High School.

In the days after the earthquake, 14-year-old Kaley Shannon and the youth group of the Western Springs Baptist Church baked and sold 2,000 cookies for disaster relief.

“This was the worst disaster I’ve ever seen, and I felt an obligation to help in some way,” Shannon said.

That initial effort quickly mushroomed, with students at twelve public and private schools selling T-shirts and wristbands.  So far they’ve raised over $25,000 – and the Moyer Foundation has kicked in with a $25,000 matching grant.

They’re working through Free The Children, a largely youth-funded foundation created by a 12-year-old Toronto boy in 1995, which focuses on children’s rights and promoting sustainable development in poor countries.

Money raised here will go to rebuilding schools in Haiti.

Unity Challenge

The Chicago Community Trust has announced Unity Challenge 2010, with CCT  providing a one-on-one match for new donor contributions toward a fund to help nonprofit organizations struggling to meet growing demands for human services, including food and shelter.

Last year, the inaugural Unity Fund provided $4 million to support agencies meeting basic human needs, exceeding its goal by $1 million.

Last year CCT also launched its monthly Metro Chicago Vital Signs report, tracking statistics on unemployment, foreclosures, homelessness and hunger.

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