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Major Milestone: $40 Million for Chicago Community Development

Two years ago at the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center, LISC Chicago formally launched its Campaign for Stronger Neighborhoods, an ambitious effort to raise $40 million in grants and loans to support community development throughout the city.

Terry Mazany, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, speaks at LISC Chicago's celebration of reaching its $40 million fundraising goal.

Photos by Gordon Walek

On June 18th, on the 57th floor of the loop’s Chase Tower, LISC announced to a crowd of 75 business and civic representatives, donors, neighborhood leaders and government officials that it had reached the fundraising goal. Competing with the clamor of the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade, the folks attending were already in a celebratory mood.

“On a celebratory day in Chicago, my favorite win: $40 million raised by LISC Chicago to build stronger neighborhoods,” tweeted Alaina Harkness, program officer, MacArthur Foundation. 

For any community development organization to raise $40 million in three years (LISC already had raised $20 million in a silent phase before it publically launched the campaign) is no small accomplishment. But it has special meaning for LISC Chicago. Enlisting a broad base of funders – from banks and other corporations to foundations and government sources – clearly validated the neighborhood planning work LISC initiated in the previous decade through its New Communities Program (NCP), in which 16 Chicago neighborhoods created comprehensive redevelopment plans and began implementing them. 

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was among those who spoke about the value that LISC Chicago brings to neighborhood development - something she saw first hand when she was the 4th Ward alderman.

“We recognize for the road going forward, it’s not enough to have a strong, vibrant economic core,” said Terry Mazany, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, who was one of several LISC partners to speak at the event. “We also need thriving neighborhoods as well to support that. And planning does indeed matter. LISC’s work on the ground has made this case over and over again.” 

It did that by becoming a critical bridge between neighborhood organizations and residents, government officials, foundations and corporations, all of whom had a stake in strengthening Chicago communities. And all of whom heeded Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s warning when the campaign was announced that “This won’t be a city we know and love if it becomes a tale of two cities,” he said, referencing Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel about the plight of the French peasantry at the hands of the aristocracy. “We need a city that doesn’t have a dichotomy between the neighborhoods and downtown.” 

The $40 million, said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, is equipping LISC to expand the NCP approach of neighborhood engagement, planning and action; make neighborhoods healthier and stronger by investing in human, physical and economic development; and strengthen systems inside LISC to document and communicate its impact.

But the campaign, she said, was always about more than money. “We’ve also been neighborhood development evangelists,” she noted, “spreading the good news about how much more powerful our city can be when we engage community leaders, bring in the right data at the right time for the right reasons, develop thoughtful community-owned plans, connect the dots between the public, private and nonprofit sectors and actually get things done.” 

"While Center for Changing Lives partners with participants to realize their potential by uncovering possibilities and overcoming barriers," said CCL's Ellen Ray, "it is our partnership with LISC Chicago, and with each of you, that has also equipped CCL to realize our promise and potential." 

Actually getting things done. Those are loaded words in the community development business, where projects take forever, partners are numerous, and unanticipated cataclysmic events, such as the Great Recession, can wreak havoc with neighborhood plans and progress. 

Yet LISC Chicago’s fingerprints are all over the place, from the strength of community organizations such as the Quad Communities Development Corp. and the extensive residential and commercial development that’s happening on the Mid South Side, to the anti-violence work in Little Village, to the creation of a quality-of-life plan in the Near North neighborhood, and the support of Financial Opportunity Centers throughout the city where residents can receive financial and employment counseling and learn computer skills, among other things. 

The $40 million from a wide variety of funders, including longtime supporters such as the MacArthur Foundation, Chase, the Crown Family Philanthropies, and State Farm and new funders including Boeing,GCM Grovsenor, the Chicago Cubs, and individual donors such as Paul and Mary Finnegan will allow LISC to continue that work. Also contributing in a major way was the national LISC office through $4 million in loans and connections to another $6 million through the Social Innovation Fund (to support Financial Opportunity Centers), AmeriCorps and HUD Section 4 grants. In all, nearly 90 funders stepped up to support LISC Chicago and the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards. See a complete list of donors

“Each of you has a story about how LISC has made a difference in your work and your institution’s mission,” Vasquez told the crowd at the celebration breakfast. “Whether you are a community partner, private donor or corporate investor – you share equal value in our equation of making an impact in Chicago.” 

LISC Chicago Executive Director Susana Vasquez edits her comments to funders and neighborhood partners at LISC's announcement of reaching its $40 million fundraising goal.

Other speakers at the event, including Chase’s Dan Sprehe, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Ellen Ray from the Center for Changing Lives, outgoing LISC Chicago Board Chair Lori Healey (who was honored at the event for her role as chair of the campaign), new board chair Rich Sciortino, and Randall Blakey, of the Near North Unity Program, noted LISC’s accomplishments and value.            

“While Center for Changing Lives (CCL) partners with participants to realize their potential by uncovering possibilities and overcoming barriers, it is our partnership with LISC Chicago, and with each of you, that has also equipped CCL to realize our promise and potential. And for that, we are grateful,” said Ellen Ray. 

Randall Blakey, executive director of the Near North Unity Program, added, “To those of you who have made this $40 million campaign a reality, thank you immensely. Today, because of your investment, the shoulders of our great city are a lot broader and the people within our robust communities stand a lot taller.”

And while the $40 million is secured, it doesn’t mean LISC’s fundraising efforts have ended. In her closing remarks Vasquez recalled that in her first meeting with Toni Preckwinkle after she became LISC Chicago’s executive director, the Cook County board president told her that her number one priority was to raise money. And that priority continues. 

Please click to support LISC’s Chicago’s mission of providing neighborhoods with the resources needed to become stronger and healthier.

For years, the involved work of LISC and its dedicated community partners have sought to impact community at every level. And the entire city benefits from this investment because together they are doing what it takes to make our neighborhoods more dynamic and resilient. I commend LISC Chicago’s leadership on achieving this important milestone and, I look forward to collaborating with its leaders and partners on the ongoing work in building stronger neighborhoods for a better Chicago.” – Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. 

Read Mayor Emanuel’s letter of support and congratulations.


Posted in Economic Development


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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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