Community Programs Accelerator seeks nonprofits for 2015-2016 program year

The Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago is preparing to kick off its second year with a new, dedicated facility and a call for applications for programming.

Launched in May 2014, the accelerator aims to develop and strengthen nonprofits that are improving the health and vitality of local communities. Through partnerships with industry practitioners and connections to University resources, the program offers assistance tailored to an organization's needs, which may include office space, funding, coaching, strategic planning, consulting and board development.

The program seeks nonprofit organizations, preferably with 501c3 status, at any stage of development that serve at least one out of nine mid-South Side neighborhoods: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn. Applications are being accepted through Oct. 2, and information sessions will be held at 6 p.m. on Sept. 2 and Sept. 16 at 5225 S. Cottage Grove.

"There's a lot of talent, drive and determination among community organizations on the South Side," said Shaz Rasul, director of community programs. "Through the accelerator, we have an opportunity to think about these partnerships in an organized way and to link resources and people at the University to these organizations in a way that helps solidify their capacity to achieve their missions."

One significant resource is space. After starting in offices at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, the accelerator recently relocated to a newly constructed facility at 5225 S. Cottage Grove Ave. The space serves as home offices for organizations that are incubating at the accelerator, and it is open to other nonprofits for educational workshops.

Last year, the accelerator received more than 50 applicants for four available slots. In response to this demand, the University expanded the initiative by creating an associates level, geared toward supporting a project idea that's solvable with human capital and know-how, rather than funding.

“In this high-technology world, our staff had fallen behind the times. The Community Programs Accelerator has brought us University students and staff and they are teaching us things,” said Stacey Anewishki, program director for Featherfist, one of 11 organizations selected for the associates level last fall. “Our philosophy had been ‘no staff left behind’ and they are helping us make that a reality,” she said.

For this application cycle, one slot is available in the core program, which offers up to $50K in funding, and four to five spaces are open at the associate level, which would include consulting and student support for a specific project.

Inevitably, the accelerator fosters connections between the organizations themselves and creates a stronger network of local nonprofits.

Educational workshops for any nonprofit

The Community Programs Accelerator also offers educational workshops and seminars that are free and open to all nonprofit and community-based organizations. Last year the University sponsored 12 workshops, drawing 316 community attendees and representing 95 organizations. Topics covered included board development, social enterprise, technology, financial management and grant writing.

The upcoming September series offers two workshops that will focus on how nonprofits can best communicate the story of their work. These will take place at 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 and Sept. 23 at the Community Programs Accelerator on Cottage Grove Avenue.

The Community Programs Accelerator works with a number of University partners, including the Social Enterprise Initiative of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business; the Civic Knowledge Project; the Urban Health Initiative; the University of Chicago Law School; the Crime Lab; and the University Community Service Center. Professional partners include the law firm DLA Piper; the Law Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; venture philanthropist A Better Chicago; and Deloitte Financial Advisory Services.

“The array of resources and network of support at the accelerator have been phenomenal for our organizational development,” said Demond Drummer, founder of CoderSpace, an organization that teaches South Side youth to write computer code and is currently incubating at the accelerator. “CoderSpace moved from concept to incorporation to executing our inaugural summer program within months of being welcomed into the Community Programs Accelerator.”