Community Programs Accelerator selects seven South Side nonprofits

The Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago has selected seven South Side nonprofits to join the program in 2017. The cohort includes organizations whose missions range from addressing homelessness to supporting young aspiring artists to preventing youth violence in local communities.

The accelerator, which supports nonprofits whose work benefits mid-South Side neighborhoods, is also expanding to include community-focused projects led by UChicago faculty members. Two faculty projects were selected to receive support this year.

“Many University of Chicago faculty members are involved in urban research as well as projects that can have a significant impact for communities around our campus and in cities around the world,” said Provost Daniel Diermeier. “The expansion of the Community Programs Accelerator will help establish deeper connections between UChicago and surrounding neighborhoods while supporting the work of our faculty.”

UChicago launched the Community Programs Accelerator in 2014 in response to requests from community residents and organizations that were seeking support in developing programs to meet community needs. Since then, the accelerator has committed more than $500,000 in grants and internship funds and provided office space, training, or student and faculty support to more than 200 community-based nonprofits. The accelerator is open to organizations at various stages, including startups in need of incubation, existing nonprofits looking to grow and established organizations seeking to expand their programs to the mid-South Side.

The initiative is part of a broader UChicago effort to help strengthen local neighborhoods by drawing on its resources as a major research university and through a variety of internal and external partnerships. Other recently established initiatives to increase the capacity of community leaders and organizations include UChicago Local and the Civic Leadership Academy.

“Before we launched this program three years ago, we knew there were many talented community leaders who could make an even greater impact with additional support,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement, who announced the program expansion during an open house at the accelerator on Feb. 21. “Each year since then, the demand for support has grown, and we have created new avenues to meet the need. The Community Programs Accelerator is empowering stronger organizations that will lead to stronger communities.”

This year, two community organizations—Prosperity House in Woodlawn and the Love, Unity and Values Institute (LUV Institute) in Kenwood—were selected to receive comprehensive support through the accelerator’s core program. Prosperity House provides transitional housing and other support services for homeless women and male veterans. The LUV Institute provides teens facing social, emotional, academic and financial challenges with skills to promote college and career readiness. Each organization will receive up to $50,000 in grant funding along with other resources for up to three years.


Five nonprofits will receive project-based support at the associates level for one year. The associate organizations include Chicago Hyde Park Village; Donda’s House Inc.; My Block, My Hood, My City; Pilot Light; and Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors.


In response to growing interest from local organizations, this year the accelerator will also provide student interns to help 16 South Side nonprofits with short-term special projects.


Inaugural faculty-led projects expand campus partnerships


Since the accelerator’s launch, UChicago faculty members have helped to support community-based nonprofits through the program, providing research and scholarship expertise to help organizations carry out their missions. In response to input from faculty members, the Office of Civic Engagement partnered with the Office of the Provost and University of Chicago Medicine last fall to develop the new Faculty Initiatives Program.


Faculty members were invited to submit letters of interest to be considered for a yearlong commitment of comprehensive support for projects that have a significant community engagement component.


The inaugural faculty projects selected for the accelerator are the South Side Home Movie Project, led by Jacqueline Stewart, professor in cinema and media studies; and the Mid-South Side Chicago Stroke Education Project, led by Agnieszka Ardelt, associate professor of neurology and surgery, director of Neurosciences Critical Care, and co-director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at UChicago Medicine.


With support from UChicago Medicine, each faculty project will receive $25,000 and strategic support to develop and scale their community programming.


“Partnerships across the University are part of what makes the Community Programs Accelerator distinct and able to provide resources to help address a variety of community needs,” Douglas added. “We are pleased to have UChicago Medicine and the Office of the Provost as new partners.”


The open house event also highlighted the successes of graduating participants of the accelerator’s core program. Kelly Fair, a member of the inaugural cohort and founder and executive director of Polished Pebbles, which mentors teenage girls, told attendees that the accelerator helped her organization meet its initial goals for scaling and expanding its programs to other states and to serve more girls in Chicago, including connecting them to new opportunities such as summer jobs.


“Through participation in the Community Programs Accelerator, Polished Pebbles received its first curriculum assessment and made contacts that resulted in increased school engagement,” said Fair. “We now serve girls in 20 schools on the South Side and have increased the number of girls we serve in Chicagoland from around 200 a year to more than 300.”