Evanston Community Foundation hits milestone for local nonprofits

Susan Du

This year, on the Evanston Community Foundation’s 25th anniversary, the organization announced another milestone: It granted a record amount of money to local nonprofits.

In an awards ceremony held Thursday in the ballroom of the North Shore Retirement Hotel, 1611 Chicago Ave., ECF allocated $217,000 worth of grants to 30 local organizations each dedicated in their own way to making Evanston better for at-risk populations, youth, families and the environment.

ECF is in turn funded through private donors, including Northwestern. It has traditionally been Dance Marathon’s secondary beneficiary.

Maureen Powers, ECF program officer, said this year’s 30 grant recipients were chosen from a pool of 63 potential candidates. Ultimately, the candidates selected were deemed to have the most potential impact on the community.

“We’re looking for organizations that clearly have a good plan, staff capacity, resources to pull off the project that they’re proposing,” Powers said. “We look at their organization as a whole to see if they’re financially sound. There are so many factors, but I would say the bottom line is really what’s going to have the most impact.”

Grant recipients ranged from well-established organizations, such as Youth Organizations Umbrella, Family Focus and Big Brothers Big Sisters, to newly formed ones like Curt’s Cafe, Edible Evanston and LakeDance. The value of individual grants ranged between $3,000 and $13,000.

Edible Evanston, a spinoff from EV150, will implement its $4,850 to restoring the Margery Carlson Greenhouse and updating its infrastructure and utilities. The goal is create a source of locally grown, organic crops.

“Some (subsets of the organization) are saying, ‘How do we grow food in the city?'” said Ken Kastman, Edible Evanston committee member. “Some are saying, ‘How do we extend the growing season from spring to fall by using greenhouses?’ Some subset is thinking about how to restore unused lands, vacant properties in the city, ‘Can we make gardens out of those?'”

Another new program, LakeDance, will use its $5,260 to introduce an educational program combining dance and science to Evanston/Skokie District 65 curricula. The idea is to lead students in physically imitating scientific elements – such as the movement of molecules – in order to teach material in a more entertaining way.

LakeDance was founded by dance teacher Clare Tallon Ruen, who along with D65 science curriculum facilitator Melanie Mudarth is in the process of establishing the three- to six-week program at various elementary schools. Ruen said schools, teachers and her third and fifth grade students as well have responded enthusiastically to her approach.

Ultimately, the annual award ceremony doubled as a networking event for leaders on the Evanston nonprofit scene to educate and inspire each other.

“Oh wow, I just love this event,” ECF board president Penelope Sachs said. “I am so proud to live in a community that fosters this many amazing organizations, to really really take care of its own community. I’m just overwhelmed by what this community can achieve this year.”

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