UIC Neighborhoods Initiative

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Recognized as one of the nation’s most successful long-term university-community partnerships, the UIC Neighborhoods Initiative (UICNI) is a flagship program of the Great Cities Institute.

GCI was a pioneer in the national movement to harness the resources of universities in service to communities. UICNI gained early funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Outreach Partnership Centers (COPC) grant program. The COPC grant, no longer available, supported colleges and universities to apply their human, intellectual and institutional resources to the challenge of revitalizing distressed communities.

Through the UICNI initiative, GCI and UIC are able to carry out their collective mission of serving the local community through engaged scholarship, research and service at the local community and metropolitan region level.

Organizational Model: Multi-Disciplinary, Campus-Wide Partnership

Since its inception, UICNI has approached its work with communities as an opportunity to build partnerships that are mutually beneficial for the university community (faculty, scholars, and students) as well as the external community.

As a result, UICNI was formed based on a unique organizational model that combines resources from numerous units and colleges and coordinates multi-disciplinary, campus-wide partnerships between community organizations and UIC students and faculty.

The UICNI initiative typically includes technical assistance and training to community-based organizations, institutions, and local government agencies in:

    • Program development
    • Implementation
    • Applied research
    • Formal evaluations of ongoing community programs
    • Participatory planning

A current priority of The Great Cities Institute Neighborhood Initiative is programming focused on Participatory Budgeting in Chicago.

Brief History of UIC Neighborhoods Initiative (UICNI)

The UIC Neighborhoods Initiative (UICNI) promotes and facilitates partnerships between UIC faculty, staff and students, and elected officials, residents, and organizations in neighborhoods throughout the city. Historically, UICNI has pursued grant funding to implement community and economic development programs, primarily in the Pilsen, East and West Garfield Park, Near West Side, North and South Lawndale, West Town, and Humboldt Park neighborhoods. Once funding was secured, UICNI brokered partnerships, administered funds, collaboratively developed and implemented programs, and performed evaluations. Programs have focused on securing more affordable housing, youth development, civic engagement, capacity building, leadership development, improved educational resources, increasing employment, and redevelopment of commercial areas.

Over the past twenty years, UICNI has secured more than $6.5 million dollars, and implemented more than thirty community and economic development programs. UICNI has recruited over 100 students and 65 faculty members to work with over 100 neighborhood groups on community projects. Most importantly, hundreds of thousands of community members have benefited from the programs in their neighborhoods. UICNI has maintained its focus on collaboration with neighborhood groups, elected officials, institutions and residents through its’ current projects including annual implementation of participatory budgeting in multiple communities throughout the city and the commercial corridor revitalization planning projects in the Austin and South Chicago communities.

Past Programs

2011-2012 Civic Leaders Program

The Civic Leadership Program was designed to identify Chicago’s next generation of civic leaders from among the city’s many neighborhood organizations, and to equip them with critical thinking and analysis skills to better engage with current topics, make informed choices and speak persuasively on policy issues. Seventeen community leaders, having been nominated by an Advisory Committee of UICNI staff and affiliates with strong community connections, came from organizations in distressed neighborhoods. They attended workshops led by UIC faculty, covering critical topics such as foreclosure and sub-prime lending, youth violence, tax increment financing, and balancing Chicago’s budget. After each topic workshop, participants had to adopt and defend a position on the policy issue, writing and delivering a speech as though to various groups of potential constituents. The assignments were designed to analyze current literature and research about a policy issue, as well as to practice articulating a strong stance within the context of political rhetoric.

The program identified five programmatic outcomes including increased fluency on issues of urban policy; increased ability to craft a political strategy for different target audiences; developing connections to other emerging leaders encountered in the program; psychological support for the idea of running for office as a result of demystifying the process; developing connections to UIC as a resource for developing positions on issues of urban policy; and increased knowledge of the role of the university in building civic capacity and engagement. In post-program evaluations, 100% of respondents indicated that as a result of participating in the program they had increased knowledge and understanding of urban policy issues and increased ability to craft a political strategy and message for different target audiences. Overall, participant responses indicated that the program successfully developed their leadership skills and knowledge.

Funding Source: Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement

2011-2012 Certificate in Sustainable Fund Development

Designed to strengthen the sustainability of community-based nonprofit organizations, the Certificate in Sustainable Fund Development program was a customized training program for non-profits in three west side tax increment financing (TIF) districts (Homan-Arthington, Humboldt Park, and Central West TIFs). The program provided twelve training sessions on fund development strategies and nonprofit management activities such as board governance, grant writing, and program evaluation. Ten core participants (La Casa Norte, West Town Bikes, Latin United Community Housing Association, Young People’s Project, the Block Club Federation, Latino Cultural Exchange Coalition, Near West Side Community Development Corporation, Girls in the Game, Homan Square Community Center, and Family Focus Lawndale) received individualized technical assistance at their offices. These sessions covered a comprehensive assessment of the organization’s overall capacity, followed by an evaluation of capacity building needs and a customized capacity building plan. Over the course of the program, 42 hours of group training was provided to 48 participants from 22 organizations and 247 hours of individualized technical assistance was provided to the core group of organizations. Exit interviews and surveys both indicated that participants felt the program was beneficial, that their advisors were excellent, and that they gained useful knowledge and skills that built the capacity building of their organizations.

Funding Source: City of Chicago TIF Works

2009-2011 ChiWest Resource Net

The goal of the ChiWest ResourceNet project was to build the capacity of community-based (CBOs) and faith-based organizations (FBOs) in seven severely distressed low-income Chicago community areas (East and West Garfield Park, North and South Lawndale, Humboldt Park, Near West Side, and Pilsen). With an average poverty rate of 32% in these communities, the need for resources among organizations providing social services in these areas is acute; in this project, the focus was assisting organizations with annual operating budgets under $500,000. Capacity building activities focused on enhancing leadership development, organizational development, program development and community engagement, using strategies such as outreach, designing and conducting a sub-award program, conducting one-on-one technical assistance, and delivering capacity building trainings and workshops. Thirty-six organizations took part in the programs, while 19 received financial subawards totaling $240,000. Among these, 24 participated in leadership development activities such as executive coaching and recruiting board members; 27 engaged in management improvement activities such as creating a Strategic Plan and/or a Revenue Development Plan; 23 took steps to improve the reach of their services, or their efficiency in delivering them; and 11 organizations reported an increase in the number of people served as a result, citing the capacity-building activities in which they participated as part of ChiWest as the reason for this result.

Funding Source: The Administration for Children and Families and The Chicago Community Trust

2008-2011 Illinois ResourceNet: A Funding Access Initiative

Illinois ResourceNet: A Funding Access Initiative (IRN) was a university-based program providing Illinois nonprofits and local governments with the skills and knowledge to access federal funding. UICNI partnered with the University of Illinois Extension system to offer training and technical assistance around the state of Illinois. IRN offered organizations a unique approach to grant access, centered on providing information and resources on an interactive website, working with experienced technical assistants to develop quality proposals, and connecting with a diverse group of partners to meet proposed project goals. Technical Assistance took the form of direct, one-on-one assistance on active federal proposals that were then submitted for funding, and more general assistance through learning opportunities such as workshops, online courses, discussions, conferences, and networking. IRN provided new resource development tools to 135,000 or more individuals and organizations and offered more than 95 separate presentations, conferences, and trainings. Nonprofit organizations and municipalities that received technical assistance from IRN submitted a total of 127 proposals for federal and state funding that resulted in a total of $113,188,419 in federal funding and $29,224,391 in state funding.

Funding Source: Grand Victoria Foundation

2004-2007 New Directions

In partnership with the Vorhees Center, New Directions addressed two urgent needs facing residents from the North Lawndale community: the need for leaner, stronger, more savvy community organizations to serve the many low-income residents; and need for affordable and accessible housing in North Lawndale. Many community partners were engaged in the program, including North Lawndale Community News, North Lawndale Employment Network, Steans Family Foundation, Access Living, and the Chicago Rehab Network. The grant also engaged seven UIC faculty, staff, and over 300 students through studio courses and research assistant seminars.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of University Partnerships

2004-2008 Preserving Latino Urban Leaders

This partnership between Pilsen’s Rudy Lozano Public Library/Friends of Rudy Lozano Library, UIC Library Special Collections, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and the UIC Neighborhoods Initiative archived and preserved the accomplishments of Rudy Lozano Sr.’s organizing and political work.

Funding Source: UIC Great Cities Faculty Seed Fund

2004-2005 Intimate Portraits Project

This project, a literacy initiative executed in partnership with Miles Square Health Center, was based on the work of Professor Hal Adams as part of the UIC College of Education’s Community Writing Project, where writing workshops were held for “people who do not ordinarily consider themselves to be writers, and publishe[d] their reflections on everyday life in the magazine Real Conditions.” The project provided literary space for community residents to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in writing. During workshop sessions, conversations and reflections revolved around issues parents were facing in the community, personal experiences, and other topics as raised by the authors. Participants were assisted by workshops on learning writing strategies including how to begin writing letters, personal journaling, and literary devices to help the authors discover the various ways one can express one’s thoughts.

Funding Source: UIC Neighborhoods Initiative

2004-2005 Community Technology Centers, North Lawndale Employment Network

In partnership with the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), this Community Technology Center provided an open computer lab for access to career-related information, employment opportunities, internet searches, basic computer literacy classes, and Microsoft Office Specialist Certification training to low-income, primarily African-American residents of the North Lawndale and Garfield Park communities in Chicago. UICNI partnered to develop and implement the technology center and, once developed, NLEN took over operations of the technology center.

Funding Source: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

2004-2005 Community Technology Centers, North Lawndale Community News

In partnership with Strategic Human Services (also known as North Lawndale Community News), the Community Technology Center provided training for basic and intermediate computer skills, Web site design, and desktop publishing courses. An open computer lab was developed where low-income, primarily African-American residents of the North Lawndale and Garfield Park communities accessed career-related information, employment opportunities, and performed internet searches. UICNI partnered to develop and implement the technology center and, once developed, Strategic Human Services took over operations of the technology center.

Funding Source: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

2003-2006 Pilsen Community Futures

Funded by the Ford Foundation, this program sought to develop and implement a model university-community partnership that would create a culturally sustainable mixed-income community in Pilsen. The model, emphasized participation of long-time Pilsen residents and youth and worked in collaboration with the Resurrection Project (TRP), a faith-based community development corporation, and the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (MFACM), a nationally acclaimed museum, along with Yollocalli Youth Museum and RadioArte.

Funding Source: Ford Foundation

2002-2003 Community Technology Centers (II)

This technology grant, UICNI partnered with the Instituto Del Progreso Latino (IPL) to use Internet and computer technology to enhance and expand the network of education, training, career advancement opportunities and employment services IPL provided to Pilsen community residents. The goals of this project included: expanding community residents’ access to high quality educational, job preparation, placement, and career advancement services; using computers and the Internet to enhance instruction in the educational and job training services IPL provides to community residents; expanding community residents’ access to information on education and training resources, and job and career opportunities. UICNI partnered to develop and implement the technology center and, once developed, IPL took over operations of the technology center.

Funding Source: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

2001-2005 Sustained Involvement Technical Support

Through UIC graduate students, UICNI sustained involvement and technical support for community technology centers in partnership with the Gads Hill Center, Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Renacer Westside Community Network, Westside Education and Employment Center, North Lawndale Community News, and the North Lawndale Employment Network.

Funding Source: UIC Neighborhoods Initiative

2001-2002 Community Technology Centers (I)

Through this partnership, the Gads Hill Center in Pilsen and the Westside Employment Education Center on the Near West Side were equipped with computer workstations to enable the sites to deliver computer training and Internet access to the communities. UIC faculty, staff and students provided technical support and assistance. At both sites, residents gained computer and Internet access to use for job searches and homework, help with distance learning opportunities and language skills, ACT/SAT preparation, college application assistance, employment skills training and professional development. UICNI partnered to develop and implement the technology center and, once developed, Gads Hill and the Westside Employment Education Center took over operations of the technology center.

Funding Source: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

2000-2003 West Side Consortium Training Institute for Family Childcare Home Providers (formerly Community Union Day Care Providers, 1996-1999)

Many partners – including the West Side Consortium, Marcy Newberry Association, Malcolm X College, City of Chicago’s Dept. of Human Services, the City Design Center and UIC’s Center for Urban Economic Development — collaborated to offer this 20-week training program in which up to 90 qualified residents participated each year. Each participant received college credits and enough skills to own and operate a home child-care business upon successful completion of training. Training focused on workplace literacy, study skills, licensing orientation, and computers, as well as infant health, physical, nutritional and safety needs in a home care setting. If participants were interested, advanced training was made available through Malcolm X, which included courses toward an Associate’s degree. Classes, which were free to those who met eligibility requirements, were held for eight hours each week. The overall mission of the institute was to provide community residents with the necessary training to become Early Head Start Enhanced home day-care providers operating within an agency network.

Funding Source: Marcy Newberry Association, Methodist Womens Association, City of Chicago Dept. of Human Services, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development

2000-2001 Computer Training Classes at Community Technology Centers

In collaboration with the Instituto del Progreso Latino, this program provided computer training to 570 low-income Latinos and African Americans living in Chicago’s Pilsen (South Lawndale), Little Village (Lower West Side), South Deering, and Back-of-the-Yards (New City) communities. The courses were Computers en Espanol, to introduce non-English speakers to computers, and Computers for Careers, to help participants learn how to use a computer to search for and apply for jobs.

Funding Source: Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity

1999-2000 Kauffman Social Entrepreneur Internship Program

In collaboration with the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, MBA Career Services, this program placed MBA students in internships in social entrepreneur organizations and provided the focus for related academic course credit. Each agency that participated was required to provide $2,000 to aid in funding the interns. Neighborhoods Initiative offered a grant called “Building Tomorrows’ New Business People: A UICNI Community Grant for Social Entrepreneur Internships,” that provided up to half the necessary funds to aid the community agencies.

Funding Source: Kauffman Foundation, Social Enterprise Foundation

1997-2001 Affordable Housing Fund

In collaboration with The Resurrection Project, Near West Side Communty Development Corporation and the City of Chicago, the Affordable Housing Fund provided resources for rehabbing one-to-four unit homes in the Pilsen and Near West Side communities, with matching funds from the City of Chicago. It helped to facilitate structural improvements, lead paint abatement, and energy improvements in one-to-four unit residential buildings owned by Pilsen and Near West residents.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (JCD), City of Chicago

1996-2001 Community Development Curriculum

UICNI in partnership with The Voorhees Center and the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs offered a series of classes devoted to issues related to the UIC Neighborhoods Initiatives, two of which were funded by the Joint Community Development grant. Course content combined theory, practice, practicum research and service by students.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (JCD)

1996-2001 Community Development Corporation Executive Director Development Program

UICNI in partnership with The Voorhees Center, and Chicago Rehab Network to engage executive directors and board presidents in building relationships and support, mentoring, broadening visions, and creating new programs and policies to develop communities for the future.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (JCD)

1996-2001 Pilsen Commercial Development

The Near West Side Community Development Corporation and the Voorhees Center worked on this program to support commercial development in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (JCD)

1996-2001 Near West Side Commercial Development

UICNI, The Voorhees Center, and the Near West Side Community Development Corporation conducted focus groups, surveys and market feasibility studies to attract commercial development to the area, and held workshops designed to help neighborhood businesses to develop business plans and provide entrepreneurial training. One result of this program included attracting and building a much needed Walgreens at the corner of Madison and Western Avenues in the Near West Side.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (JCD), Great Cities Faculty Seed Fund, City of Chicago

1996-2001 Near West Side Asset Mapping Project

Working with the West Side Consortium and UIC’s City Design Center, this program determined assets for development projects on the Near West Side, and created an asset map for development and home building.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (JCD)

1996-2001 Esperanza Familiar

Working with The Resurrection Project and the Jane Addams College of Social Work, the Esperanza Familiar (Family Hope) project conducted a needs assessment program for Pilsen families in three congregations. In addition to family workshops, the program provided information to steering committees on models of organization, curriculum, funding, and potential partners.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (COPC)

1996-2001 Evaluation Research Course

This course was designed to train students in ethnographic research methods, and included a project where participants did an evaluation of the UIC Neighborhoods Initiative. This research, conducted in collaboration with the Department of Anthropology, was part of a larger effort to develop methods for evaluating Comprehensive Community Initiatives.

Funding Source: University of Illinois at Chicago

1996-1997 Mujeres Latinas En Accion Writing Project

This partnership between UICNI, UIC’s English Department and Mujeres Latinas En Accion (MLEA) provided participants with a research site where they could learn about the organization of a community action group. The partnership provided participants with hands-on experience with both e-mail and video conferencing capabilities.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (COPC)

1995-1997 Affordable Housing Consortium

Working with community organizations including The Resurrection Project, Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, and the Chicago Rehab Network, the purpose of the consortium was to create an affordable housing coalition to help existing neighborhood community development corporations (CDCs) expand their capacity. Faculty and graduate students from the College of Urban Planning and Policy and the School of Architecture worked with CDCs in the Pilsen and Near West Side neighborhoods to share resources and expertise that would contribute to improving housing conditions and enhancing housing development efforts. The program also sought to document and share knowledge and experience gained in Pilsen and the Near West Side, as both areas are typical of many of Chicago’s older inner-city neighborhoods in need of housing improvements.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (COPC)

1994-2001 Neighborhoods Non-Profit Network

In this program supported by UIC’s College of Engineering, over 100 staff from fifty community organizations were connected to a network on UIC’s computer system. Through the network, participants could access email, Non-Profit Network NNNet Web pages, home pages, and UICOMPAR discussion forum for connected organizations.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Commerce

1994-1999 Parent Leadership Programs

Based on feedback provided by public school principals, who felt that many parents would like to become more involved in school and community issues, but held back because they were self-conscious of their communication skills and knowledge of community issues, this program was established with a focus on adult literacy and community health. Parents and adult friends of children who attended a public elementary school met twice weekly for a writing workshop to write and discuss their experiences living in the community. More than 70 adults were involved in the program, and their writings were used to begin production of a magazine, “The Journal of Ordinary Thought.” A faculty member from UIC’s College of Education worked directly with program participants to the produce numerous editions of the magazine. In Pilsen, the College of Education worked with the Instituto del Progresso Latino to produce a journal titled “Community Voices,” which also featured the writings of program participants. The program also sought to increase parents’ understanding of community issues and to develop their abilities to address them.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (COPC)

1994-1996 Commercial and Industrial Area Design Workshops

UICNI partnered with the Schools of Architecture and Art and Design, The Resurrection Project and the Eighteenth Street Development Corporation to conduct workshops that were geared towards improving the physical attractiveness of commercial and industrial areas in Pilsen and the Near West Side. Students worked with the communities to develop plans for redesigning depressed commercial areas and mass transit stations, enhancing public open spaces. The program also worked with local businesses to ensure that existing industries and employment bases were maintained.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (COPC)

1994-1996 Hiring and Purchasing Community Linkage Program

This was an effort to more closely link UIC with residents and businesses in neighboring Pilsen and the Near West Side. UICNI partnered with the UIC Center for Urban Economic Development and the UIC Department of Economics to initiate a study to determine how UIC job opportunities and contracts could be better linked to workers and businesses in areas adjacent to the University. As a result of the study, mechanisms were established to channel information about job openings to community-based job developers, such as the Renacer Westside Community Network and the Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, who may refer qualified residents to apply for open positions. Additionally, information on UIC’s procurement process was also distributed to area businesses and community development corporations, to enhance their awareness of potential opportunities to do business with the University.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (COPC)

1994-1996 Incubators for Youth

Incubators for Youth offered young males living in public housing the opportunity to explore entrepreneurial activities. UICNI partnered with the UIC Center for Urban Business who, in collaboration with the Chicago Housing Authority’s Economic Development Department, designed and implemented the Incubators for Youth program. The program objectives were to develop alternative activities for teenage males ages 13 to 19; to identify viable business activities that can be developed into youth enterprises; to develop essential skills in marketing, management, record keeping and finance; to develop life skills that are vital to successful adult development; and to develop non-violent problem solving skills that are applicable in business as well as everyday life. The program also sought to make use of CHA resources that had been under- or un-utilized.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (COPC)

1994-1996 Great Cities, Great Careers

This initiative was a partnership between UICNI, Benito Juarez High School in Pilsen and Richard T. Crane High School on the Near West Side, and UIC’s Colleges of Education and Urban Planning and Public Affairs. It sought to prepare students from these public high schools for entry-level jobs upon graduation by emphasizing marketable skill development and training. To achieve the program goal of creating 30 to 50 jobs annually for the high school graduates, along with graduates from Malcolm X College, UIC secured a commitment from Montgomery Ward & Company not only to create entry-level jobs, but also to secure the participation of other corporations as well.

Funding Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (JCD)