United Way funding could bring $450,000 to North Shore organizations, nonprofits

Kimberly Railey

United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, a community development group, will allot toward its new education initiative approximately $8 million to the greater Chicago area.

An estimated $450,000 of these funds will be made available to the North Shore region, including Evanston, Highland Park and Highwood, said Elizabeth Cole, the organization’s vice president for community investment.

“Our educational work is trying to break the bonds of poverty across generations so that kids are set up in better positions for success in life,” Cole said.

United Way of Metropolitan Chicago will encourage community organizations and nonprofits to apply for the funds, and award letters will be sent out this August. The education initiative is one component of the development group’s 10-year commitment to improving the education, income and health of the 40 to 50 neighborhoods it serves, Cole said.

Provided over the next two years, the initiative will focus on two phases of a child’s learning trajectory: pre-kindergarten development and the transition to high school.

The grants will help to expand participation in early childhood intervention programs and increase resources for schools in low-income areas, Cole said.

City Manager of Evanston Wally Bobkiewicz said while United Way of Metropolitan Chicago has historically helped nonprofits throughout Evanston, this marks the first time its resources are being directed towards specific needs.

“I think United Way knows that the Evanston community, the nonprofit sector, the government sector and the education sector here are very connected and that by bringing this initiative to us, they’d be able to spend the money in a way that would make a difference in the community,” Bobkiewicz said.

Devoting resources to preparing students for high school is critically important, said Leah Seligman, program director of Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., an Evanston nonprofit for community’s youth.

“It is a really tough time socially and emotionally, as well as academically, and kids tend to pick a path at that point,” Seligman said. “Essentially by the time the kid gets into ninth grade, they’re on a track – either for success or possibly failure. We need to step in.”

Currently, Seligman said Y.O.U. provides after-school programming at five different schools: Oakton Elementary School, Washington Elementary School, Chute Middle School, Nichols Middle School and Evanston Township High School. United Way of Metropolitan Chicago has been funding these operations in the past but the new grants will allow the nonprofit to expand its existing services, she said.

Its two middle school programs can be better supported through increasing student and staff size, as well as spurring parent involvement within them, she said.

“This initiative allows us to do the work that we do really well, which is addressing the social and emotional needs of kids, and making sure the kids are ready to learn when they go to school,” Seligman said.

Ultimately, Bobkiewicz said he thinks the collaboration between United Way and Evanston will help the community fulfill its needs.

“This is just a great example of United Way helping our organizations do things that they otherwise may not have the resources to do,” he said.

[email protected]