Though most people know of the various Fortune 500 companies and startups that call Chicago home, the nonprofit scene in the Windy City is also thriving and worth noting. Just google “Chicago nonprofits” and you’ll get just under 3.5 million results. This should come as no surprise, considering Chicago’s status as the third largest city in the United States with a population of nearly three million and the consequent diverse efforts to make the city a safer, more educated place to live.
So what are some of these innovative nonprofits helping to make Chicago even more awesome?
- Growing Home
Since 2002, nonprofit Growing Home has been a social enterprise that addresses multiple issues at once by providing job training for people with employment barriers (i.e. those who were previously homeless or with a criminal background) through organic agriculture. The program involves real work experience and a job readiness curriculum to ultimately help people find meaningful, sustaining careers. Its unique model also involves providing underserved communities with access to healthy food options by offering the produce at significantly reduced prices. The effect is threefold: changing the lives of hundreds of workers, thousands of their family members, and the general health of the Chicago community.
Focused on providing financial education and peer-mentorship to urban 11th and 12th graders, Moneythink employs a unique model that utilizes customized curricula and trained college volunteers as mentors to make financial decision-making and career planning practical and fun. The ultimate goal: to help young people navigate the financial decisions of adulthood and achieve financial independence and by doing so, build the financial health of Americans. Recognized by the White House in 2011 as one of the most promising social innovations for the nation’s future, Moneythink has become a national student movement with chapters at 30 universities. Not bad for what started as a small community service club at the University of Chicago in 2009.
Founded two years ago by three educators working on Chicago’s South and West sides, pilotED is a college-readiness nonprofit that offers programming for middle school students of color that focuses on exploring minority identity, enriching academics, and building student voice. With the ultimate goal to empower these students to be “on-track” for high school graduation by the ninth grade, the nonprofit utilizes an intensive, comprehensive program to revolutionize students’ lives by instilling the right mindset and habits early in their educational careers and providing support to those who lack the necessary resources and guidance.
- One Million Degrees
Founded in 2006 by a group of social entrepreneurs, One Million Degrees focuses on changing the odds of success of a uniquely overlooked population: community college students. Through the unique, comprehensive support program, the accepted students receive tuition assistance and stipends to help defray the costs of books, child care and other expenses. They’re also assigned mentors for further personalized support and given training in financial literacy, professional development and civic engagement in addition to guidance if they choose to transfer to four-year universities. The results? Their scholars graduate at over three times the rate of unsupported community college students and this past academic year, the nonprofit nearly doubled their program by serving 252 highly motivated, low-income scholars.
- Heartland Alliance
As the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest, Heartland Alliance has 125 years of experience in helping nearly one million people each year who are homeless, living in poverty or seeking safety. With its multifaceted programs including housing programs, health care services, financial education, job training, and legal protection, this nonprofit makes comprehensive and integrated efforts to changes lives and strengthen communities in Chicago and around the world.