Community Programs Accelerator selects six South Side nonprofits

The Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago has selected six South Side nonprofits to join the program in 2016. One organization, eta Creative Arts Foundation, will join the core program and receive comprehensive support, while the other five organizations will receive project-based support at the associate level.

The accelerator, which provides a range of resources to nonprofits whose work improves the health and vitality of mid-South Side neighborhoods, also formed a digital alliance with Microsoft Corp. The new alliance will provide equipment and software for use by accelerator organizations, as well as digital literacy training through the accelerator’s free educational workshop series that is open to any nonprofit. The goal of the alliance is to support technology education, economic development, and entrepreneurship among the University and local communities.


Representatives from the University and Microsoft made the announcement at a Jan. 21 event celebrating the grand opening of the accelerator facility at 5225 S. Cottage Grove Ave. The space, which opened for programming in summer 2015, serves as offices for the accelerator organizations and as the primary location for the workshop series.

“The Community Programs Accelerator is an important component of the University’s efforts to bring our strengths in education and research to bear on societal challenges that affect local communities, cities and the nation,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “This new alliance with Microsoft supplements our work as an anchor institution to build, sustain and enhance the capacity of South Side nonprofits, and it will help extend their impact in surrounding neighborhoods and across the city.”

“Microsoft is excited to establish a digital alliance with the University of Chicago and work together to make devices and technology more accessible to the local and academic community,” said Margo Day, vice president of U.S. education at Microsoft.

Microsoft Digital Alliances bring together an array of programs that empower people, promote a better education, inspire youth to imagine opportunities and help citizens find a job or start their own business. In collaborating with the University, Microsoft will achieve this through a number of initiatives that support technological advancement for students, educators, professionals, local businesses, tech startups and more.

“In today’s classrooms and job market, digital literacy skills are a must, and Microsoft is committed to helping bridge the technological gap in our communities,” said Sherlaender Phillips, Midwest District General Manager at Microsoft. “This alliance will help the University of Chicago extend its programs to have an even greater impact with our neighbors.”

The Microsoft digital literacy workshops will be held regularly throughout the year to support the staff of community organizations as well as their constituents. Microsoft and the accelerator launched their alliance by holding the first digital literacy workshop on Jan. 21 as part of the grand opening.

In addition to temporary office space, the accelerator provides funding, evaluation, research support and technical assistance to a select number of organizations through an application process. Since the accelerator’s launch in May 2014, more than 100 nonprofits have applied to participate and five programs have been selected for comprehensive support as they build their capacity. An additional 12 organizations have been offered assistance with specific projects to help advance their missions. Including the Community Programs Education Series, the accelerator has served more than 150 nonprofit organizations in Chicago, with support from partners across the University and the city.

The accelerator also provides community-based organizations with access to University students and faculty. Since May 2014, UChicago students have contributed more than 3,500 hours of consulting to accelerator organizations through engagement as part of four faculty-led courses, and more than 1,000 hours of volunteer work through service days. Seven students have done internships at accelerator organizations.

“The Community Programs Accelerator has attracted interest and support from students, faculty and staff, as well as from practicing professionals and organizations interested in contributing to this work,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement, whose office oversees the accelerator. “As the initiative continues to develop, it will enable the University to deepen relationships with a range of partners while helping to build stronger local neighborhoods.”

UChicago partners of the accelerator include Career Advancement, IT Services, the Urban Health Institute, the Chicago Innovation Exchange and the University Community Service Center. External partners include A Better Chicago, The Law Project, Deloitte, DLA Piper and Microsoft.

“Students have an amazing opportunity to engage with the South Side community on an organizational level through the Community Programs Accelerator, and this is an especially valuable resource for students involved in the UChicago Careers in Public Policy and Service Program,” said Nora Freely, a program director in the Office of Career Advancement. “The accelerator workshops teach students key skills and allow them to contribute to the community around them.”

Eta Creative Arts, which provides training and performance opportunities to African American youth and adults, was selected from more than 50 applicants for the 2016 program year. The organization will join the accelerator’s core group, which includes three other nonprofits selected in 2015—Coderspace, The Dovetail Project and Polished Pebbles. The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, also selected for the core group in 2015, has completed its term in the program.

“The history of eta Creative Arts on the South Side is tremendous. As they chart their course for the next phase, we believe the partnerships and supports that the accelerator brings will be a great match,” said Shaz Rasul, UChicago’s director of community programs and manager of the Community Programs Accelerator. “Connecting eta with our existing network of organizations will be beneficial for everyone involved.”

“Commitment and support from the accelerator program to a legacy institution such as eta Creative Arts Foundation invigorates program expansion, advanced arts training, international arts initiatives and local collaborations that benefit our community and the city at large,” said Kemati Janice Porter, interim executive director of eta Creative Arts Foundation. “This is a huge step in the restoration, revitalization and remembrance of what eta has contributed to arts and culture for 46 years.”

Organizations selected for the accelerator’s associate level for 2016 include Prosperity House, Blue Gargoyle and Project Syncere. Two nonprofits that joined the associates group in 2015, Chicago Hyde Park Village and Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors, will remain in the program for 2016.

“I am grateful to the University for creating this new community space. It’s wonderful when something you’ve been waiting for turns out even better than you expected,” said Fifth Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, Lab ‘79. Referring to the newly selected organizations, which range from start-ups to ones that have been operating for decades, Ald. Hairston also praised the Accelerator for bridging the gap between old and young to share lessons learned and celebrate the legacy of South Side communities.

The Community Programs Accelerator is one of a broader set of initiatives across the University to foster leadership and build capacity among individuals and organizations in Chicago. Other initiatives include the Civic Leadership Academy, the Chicago Urban League’s IMPACT, floChicago and UChicago Local.