Evanston Chamber of Commerce awards Monique B. Jones the Nonprofit Person of the Year Award


Graphic by Angeli Mittal. Photo courtesy of Monique B. Jones.

Monique B. Jones, president and CEO of Forefront. Jones is this year’s recipient of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce’s Nonprofit Person of the Year Award.

Laya Neelakandan, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

The Evanston Chamber of Commerce awarded Monique B. Jones the Nonprofit Person of the Year Award, an accolade which recognizes an individual who has worked to advance Evanston through leadership and innovation.

Jones, president and CEO of the Illinois-based nonprofit Forefront and the former president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation, has held various jobs in social work and philanthropy throughout her life.

Born in Chicago and raised in Arkansas, Jones first began her career working as a therapist with children in foster care. Over the next few years, Jones assumed more leadership roles, including the director of programs for the Chicago Foundation for Women.

In 2015, Jones became president of the Evanston Community Foundation, where she stayed for the next five years. At ECF, she provided Evanston nonprofits with grants to support their work and helped them with capacity building. She said it was not just about the money, but about ensuring the nonprofits could function at their greatest capacity to help the community.

“It was about helping people see how they can be philanthropists and own their philanthropy no matter how much they’re able to contribute,” Jones said.

Last November, Jones resigned from her role at ECF to broaden the scope of her work to the state and policy level. During the pandemic, she said she could see the effects of state policy and funding decisions on the local nonprofits with which she worked.

Jones said the nonprofits had to face consequences of decisions they “weren’t even at the table to make.” So, she joined Forefront, an organization that works with both nonprofits and grantmakers throughout the state.

“Being face-to-face with families in need gave me the perspective that I needed to switch sides of the table,” Jones said. “I lead with the perspective of seeing people as me and not ‘othering’ anybody.”

At Forefront, Jones hopes to “close the gap” that vulnerable populations have felt, especially in the last year. She said she wants to become more involved in the policy aspect of the behind-the-scenes funding decisions to ensure organizations get the money and support they need.

Because she was formerly involved in choosing candidates for the award as a member of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce board, Jones said earning the award came as a shock to her.

“At the end of the day, I’ll wake up to do what I’m passionate about, and I don’t expect to be rewarded for it,” Jones said. “Recognition is always great, but there are so many people who do so much more than me.”

But Jones’ best friend, Felicia Johnson, said she was not at all surprised when she heard Jones received the award.

Johnson, who met Jones in college, said she admires her friend’s drive and passion for making a change. She hopes this recognition will inspire other women of color to pursue work in the nonprofit sector.

“The thing that is truly amazing to me and what I admire most about her is her love for public service and community service,” Johnson said. “This recognition is long overdue, and I am beyond proud of her for representing herself, her friends and family in the way she does.”

Similarly, Jessi Moon, Jones’ former colleague at ECF, said she was happy to hear Jones won the award.

Moon said at the foundation, Jones showed an ability to bring people together to achieve success.

“Monique’s a convener — she’s great at bringing people to the table and making sure everyone’s voice is heard,” Moon said.

Ultimately, Jones said she wants to make the world a better place for the next generation, especially her nine-year-old daughter. She said people coming together in light of the pandemic is a testament to the fact that change can, and will, happen.

“In all honesty, I just want to leave this place better than I found it,” Jones said. “I know it can be done… our country is a resource-rich country, and we have to stop acting like we’re not.”

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Twitter: @laya_neel

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