Community Programs Accelerator Helps to Strengthen South Side Nonprofits

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BEFORE THE SHOW: Cliff Kelley (from his left to right) chats with Ryan K. Priester Director, Community Programs Accelerator, The University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement;  Army Veteran and Director of FeatherFist Transitional Housing for homeless veterans David Culpepper. 

Strong nonprofits and leaders are vital to create vibrant, healthy communities. Nonprofits provide essential services and are critical contributors to identifying neighborhood-level needs and addressing challenges. The University of Chicago created the Community Programs Accelerator in 2014, to leverage institutional resources to build the capacity of community-based organizations on the South Side to be effective and positively impact their constituents.

The Community Programs Accelerator provides direct grant funding, implements four levels of capacity building technical assistance, and facilitates access to a range of University resources to contribute to community-based efforts.

Over the last five years, the Community Programs Accelerator has supported more than 120 nonprofits. These include:

Featherfist, founded in 1984 by Melanie Anewishki. Based in the South Shore community, Featherfist annually serves about 4,000 homeless men, women and children, veterans, and those at-risk of becoming homeless throughout Illinois.

AeroStar Avion Institute, which was founded in 2016 by Tammera Holmes to introduce aviation and STEM to minority students on the South Side per year. Holmes’ inspiration was flying with the Tuskegee Airmen out of the Gary, Ind. Airport when she was a child.

The Dovetail Project, which was in the first Community Programs Accelerator cohort, was founded by Sheldon Smith in 2010, to support African American fathers between the ages of 17 and 24, teaching them parenting, life, and job readiness skills that will help them be better fathers. In 2016, Sheldon was in the CNN Heroes top 10.

Future Ties, was founded in 2011 by Chicago Police Officer Jennifer Maddox to be a safe after-school space for children and youth living in Parkway Gardens in Woodlawn. Jennifer was in the CNN Heroes top 10 in 2017.

eta Creative Arts Foundation, founded in 1971, is one of only a handful of remaining Black-owned theater companies in the United States.

Love, Unity, and Values (LUV) Institute, was founded by Cosette Nazon-Wilburn, to support young people, ages 11-24, who face social, emotional, economic and academic challenges.

Certificate in Nonprofit Management

In 2019, the Community Programs Accelerator joined with the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA) to offer the Certificate in Nonprofit Management to strengthen the individual up-and-coming leaders of community-based nonprofits as well as the civic infrastructure on the South Side.

The free, two-year program consists of a core course taught by SSA faculty and night and weekend workshops at the Community Programs Accelerator, taught by practitioners from major nonprofits and consulting firms. They will cover topics essential to operating an effective nonprofit, including how to build a productive board, use financial tools, improve fundraising and marketing, and evaluate programming.

Leaders who earn the certificate will be equipped to create, grow, and operate sustainable, effective community-based organizations. And because the program is cohort-based, participants will develop a strong network of peers who are engaged in the effort to improve the quality of life in Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Learn more about the Community Programs Accelerator at communityprograms.uchicago.edu.

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