Schakowsky visits Evanston, announces $1.1 million grant to childhood development nonprofit Family Focus


Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) and Family Focus President and CEO Dara Munson hold up a $1.13 million check. The federal grant will go to repairing and updating the infrastructure at the organization’s Evanston center.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

When U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) visited Evanston Tuesday, she didn’t come empty-handed, bringing a check worth $1.13 million for local childhood development nonprofit Family Focus.

The money was allocated from the federal government’s 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill, and will go toward infrastructure improvements at the organization’s Weissbourd-Holmes Center in Evanston’s 5th Ward, according to a news release from Schakowsky’s office. It will help fund renovations for the building’s windows, HVAC system and ADA-accessible bathrooms.

Standing in the center’s library surrounded by bookshelves full of children’s literature, Schakowsky recounted her time as a teacher at the Foster School, which had been located in the current Family Focus building until its closure in 1979. 

“I … have had a long connection with what we’re trying to do today with Family Focus,” Schakowsky said. “(And I have) been determined to see that this building stays as part of Family Focus and to make sure that it has the resources that it needs.”

Dara Munson, president and CEO of Family Focus, commended Schakowsky for her support for children and the families and organizations that serve them.

“We are determined to provide good stewardship to this beautiful and historic center,” Munson said. “This funding … will go a long way and will help us in our reimagining (of) the Evanston center.”

Munson also spoke about Weissbourd-Holmes’ connection to the Foster School — the last neighborhood school in Evanston’s predominantly Black 5th Ward. She said her organization continues to preserve the legacy of the building by providing early childhood development programs.

Stephen Vick, the executive director of the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, said he is excited to see the building renovated. Family Focus’ Evanston center houses IWSE’s Teen Baby Nursery, a childcare and early education program for children of young parents.

“When children walk into this building, they should walk in and be amazed,” Vick said. “Their eyes should widen at the incredible creation that we make.”

Family Focus CFO Dottie Johnson told The Daily that the organization is in the planning stage for the renovations and hopes to complete them before the end of 2026.

She said Family Focus now has a total of about $5 million for the renovations, including $3 million from Evanston’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, $1 million from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and another million from the federal grant Schakowsky announced today. 

However, she said Family Focus needs $12 million total to complete all the upgrades to the Evanston center. The organization is now looking at other government funding sources and planning a capital campaign to fundraise, she added.

Including the funds for Family Focus, Schakowsky secured a total of $26.2 million from the fiscal year 2023 appropriations bill for 15 community projects across her district. This includes another $2 million for Connections for the Homeless to renovate its Hilda’s Place shelter in Evanston, according to Schakowsky’s office.

In her remarks, Schakowsky also mentioned Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s plan to build a new school next to the Family Focus building. She said she’s excited to finally see a neighborhood school for 5th Ward residents after going more than 50 years without.

“In the meantime … we want (the Family Focus center) to not only survive but to thrive and to be the quality that we want for all our children,” Schakowsky said. 

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