UChicago forms Community Programs Accelerator to support local nonprofits

Across the mid-South Side, nonprofit organizations play an important role in the health and vitality of local communities—from providing educational programs for youth to training adults for jobs to supporting arts and culture—and the University of Chicago wants to help such organizations grow.

A new initiative, called the Community Programs Accelerator, will help develop and strengthen nonprofit organizations serving neighborhoods near the University’s campus. The Community Programs Accelerator will provide temporary office space, funding, evaluation and research support to a select number of organizations through an application process. It will offer technical assistance through partnerships with external industry practitioners, and will connect nonprofits to University faculty and students whose work aligns with theirs. It will also host a series of educational workshops and events open to all local nonprofits.

“As an urban research institution with important partnerships throughout the city, the University of Chicago is interested in supporting programs with the potential to strengthen neighborhoods and the city as a whole to build, sustain and enhance their capacity,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “The Community Programs Accelerator will complement and enhance the work many of our faculty and students are currently doing with mid-South Side organizations, while providing opportunities for deeper partnerships and greater impact.”

Programming for the Accelerator will begin this fall and will be led by the University’s Office of Civic Engagement in collaboration with various partners across campus, including Alumni Relations and Development, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business’s Social Enterprise Initiative, Chicago Innovation Exchange, Civic Knowledge Project, Crime Lab, the Law School’s Arthur Kane Center for Clinical Legal Education, the School of Social Service Administration, UChicago Career Advancement, University Community Service Center, Urban Education Lab and the University of Chicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative.

The Office of Civic Engagement currently has partnerships with about 50 nonprofits in neighborhoods near its campus and hopes to increase the number of groups making an impact in local communities.

“Many individuals and organizations are doing great work on the mid-South Side, and many more have promising ideas for addressing community challenges, but their success is limited by resources and capacity,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement. “By taking a more structured approach and working closely with groups of nonprofits over a period of time, the University aims to help more organizations become self-sustaining for the long term.”

Dana Suskind, professor of surgery and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative at UChicago Medicine, said the Community Programs Accelerator offers new opportunities for collaboration. “This is an exciting initiative that harnesses the talents of local nonprofits and the University of Chicago to help achieve and maintain what we all want: a healthy, productive population,” Suskind said. “Working together, we can make the pivotal difference in our community.”

Incubation, Acceleration and Expansion

The Accelerator will house up to four 501c3 organizations at a time and will be open to groups at various stages—including startups in need of incubation, existing organizations looking to grow and more established organizations seeking to expand their programs to the mid-South Side. It will focus on four areas of development: nonprofit organizational fundamentals, evidence-based practice, partnerships and sustainability. Organizations selected for acceleration may receive office space on campus for one, two or three years and grant or fellowship funding of up to $50,000.

Chad Broughton, senior lecturer and faculty director of the Chicago Studies Program, notes the need for more resources. “In our work with South-Side clients, we’ve seen many neighborhood organizations that could expand and grow with the right support and connections,” said Broughton, who leads a public policy practicum course in which College students act as a think tank for local organizations. “This is an innovative model of community engagement that could expand the impact these organizations are having in areas like education and public safety.”

Nonprofits would also benefit from professional advice and services provided to the Accelerator by external partners such as law firm DLA Piper, the Law Project of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and venture philanthropy fund A Better Chicago.

“DLA Piper is thrilled to be partnering with the University on its accelerator project,” said Anne Geraghty Helms, counsel and director of Pro Bono Programs for DLA Piper’s Chicago office. “We have been involved in the Woodlawn community for several years, working in local schools and running a free monthly legal clinic for neighborhood residents. This new partnership provides an opportunity for us to expand our pro bono commitment in the neighborhood."

Call for Applications

Eligible organizations are invited to apply for one of three available spots for the Accelerator’s fall 2014 program year. The application period begins May 30 and will continue through July 5. A committee made up of UChicago faculty and staff, external partners and local community leaders will review the applications and select organizations to participate in the Accelerator. Interested organizations can apply online at Community Programs.

To be eligible, an organization’s programs must benefit residents in at least one of the following nine neighborhoods: Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn. All applicants will be invited to participate in the new Community Programs Series, which will offer workshops designed to benefit leaders of nonprofit organizations.

“The Community Programs Accelerator will promote a strong network of nonprofit organizations on the South Side and throughout Chicago by creating opportunities for groups to work and learn together,” said Shaz Rasul, director of Community Programs.

The initiative will also apply lessons from current community partnerships, such as UChicago’s collaboration with the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community, an organization that works to improve the lives of children in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.

“As a community-driven effort, the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community has benefited from local residents, educators, parents and University faculty, students and staff all working together as partners in youth education,” said Byron Brazier, chairman of the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community. “I am excited by the potential for this new initiative to create or expand similar partnerships across the South Side.”

Attend an Information Session

The Office of Civic Engagement will host three information sessions for organizations to learn more about the Community Programs Accelerator. The first session will be held on Thursday, June 5, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park.

For dates and times of additional sessions and for more information on the Community Programs Accelerator, visit Community Programs.