A Warm Welcome to Women United!

United Way of Metro Chicago’s Women’s Leadership Council is making a bold change… Welcome, Women United!

United Way of Metro Chicago’s Women United will join a network of more than 70,000 female leaders in more than 165 communities across six countries. This transition will enable the members of United Way’s Women United to maintain a local focus, while also having a stronger global impact.

As an integral part of United Way, Women United tackles systemic problems by empowering women across different industries to join forces in order to leverage ideas, expertise and resources, transforming the very conditions in which people live.

As a Chicago chapter, this group of philanthropic business leaders is specifically dedicated to finding long-term solutions to our region’s most complex challenges – barriers to quality childhood education, limited access to healthcare, housing and food insecurity, and a lack of financial or employment growth.

Most recently, Women United hosted a Mother’s Day event at Westcott Elementary School in our Auburn Gresham Neighborhood Network. The group collected beauty products and helped 50 young students make gift bags for their moms and other important women in their lives. This is just one example of the group’s continued efforts to strengthen community and familial bonds, which are the foundation of strong neighborhoods.

All members of Women United are dedicated to advocating, volunteering and fundraising for the most vulnerable in our community. Through a diverse set of backgrounds and a shared focus on a common goal, they are positioned to create lasting change.

Let’s introduce you to the driving forces behind United Way’s Women United, who are also some of the most dynamic women leaders in business, health and finance in Chicago. You can also meet them in person at the Grit + Grace event on June 21st. Click here to learn more.

Interested in joining this group of local leaders in our fight for a stronger Chicago? Click here to donate and become a member today!

Celebration 2018 Recap

Big challenges face the city we love, and tackling them is not always easy. But we know we’re not in this fight alone. We’re lucky to be surrounded by hardworking volunteers, generous corporate partners and phenomenal social service agencies that understand the urgent need and are invested in the work.

That’s why we like to take a step back this time each year and show them how much we appreciate all they do at our annual Celebration event.

The 2018 Celebration luncheon on Friday, May 11 honored three extraordinary Chicago leaders and neighborhood game changers, while also recognizing our corporate and community partners. More than 400 guests joined us as we reflected on the wins of FY2018 and the strides that we have made in the fight for the health, education, financial stability and safety of every person in every neighborhood across the region.

Our three honorees were chosen for their unwavering commitment to improving outcomes for every person in our region. Lupe Fiasco, American rapper and Co-Founder of M.U.R.A.L. received the Neighborhood Game Changer Award. Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Vice President of AFL-CIO, was awarded the Community Leadership Award. And Deborah DeHaas, Vice Chairman, National Managing Partner for the Center of Board Effectiveness at Deloitte, received the United Way Leadership Award.

It was a celebratory afternoon and a great chance to honor a job well done. Thank you for all who joined us. Through the generous support of our partners we raised more than $500,000 to help drive lasting change in neighborhoods across the Chicago region. We asked you to join the fight and you answered!


April Food Day 2018 Recap

661,630 people in Cook County are food insecure. That’s 12.6% of the population – 23% of whom do not qualify for Food Stamps. For our neighbors in Will County the numbers may be slightly lower – with a food insecurity rate of 7.7% – but a staggering 39% of those individuals do not qualify for Food Stamps assistance.

For those who do qualify, it’s often not enough. A family of four earning less than $40,000 a year will only receive an average of $200 a month for Food Stamps food assistance.

On April 25, United Way of Metro Chicago hosted the annual April Food Day food drive and inaugural luncheon to address the issue of hunger across the South-Southwest suburban region.

More than 128,000 pounds of food were collected this year, exceeding last year’s goal of 109,000 pounds. All donations were taken to the Tinley Park Convention Center the day of the event, where they were sorted and packaged by a group of volunteers, including students from the surrounding school districts.

Southland residents, politicians and business leaders joined the United Way South-Southwest regional team at the inaugural April Food Day luncheon, honoring leaders in our community. Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau received the Community Award, Tinley Park Convention Center received the Business Award, and Johanns Williams, United Way South Suburban regional board member and Regional Franchise Service Director for LaQuinta Inns & Suites, received the Individual Leadership Award.

Our keynote speaker for the luncheon, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, shared her story and how her childhood in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project made this an issue close to her heart. Having grown up all too familiar with what it feels like to face food insecurity, Ms. Foxx discussed the importance of addressing the issue of hunger in order to help individuals and families reach their fullest potential.

Meeting these basic needs lays a strong foundation in United Way’s fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person in the region. The work is not over yet, but the food and supplies raised through this year’s April Food Day efforts are a crucial step in providing for the residents of the South-Southwest Suburban region – and a big reason to celebrate.

Little Village Residents Take Steps to Shed Childhood Obesity

On a frigid January morning, residents of Marshall Square, an enclave of Southwest Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, set out on a mission to improve their community’s health.

With clipboards in hand, the volunteers, led by United Way of Metro Chicago’s community partner Marshall Square Resource Network, were trained to assess the walkability of their streets in preparation for next week’s formal study.

“We realize our streets aren’t the best places for our children to be,” said Jennifer Idrovo, the Neighborhood Network director of MSRN. “In order to promote a healthy lifestyle, we have to make them safe.”

In addition to poor eating habits and the high price of healthy foods, a neighborhood’s poor walkability and limited access to safe outdoor space can contribute to childhood obesity, a problem too many children in Marshall Square face.

Situated between North and South Lawndale, Little Village is home to a large Hispanic community, vibrant Mexican culture and one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the city.

About 32 percent of its kids are overweight or obese. That’s twice the national average.

Marshall Square Resource Network works to improve kids’ health through efforts like the walkability study. Its findings will help community leaders resolve environmental obstacles that hinder outdoor activity, like unsafe intersections and hazardous sidewalks.

Together, we have a bold goal to increase the percentage of healthy weight children in Marshall Square from 51 percent to 60 percent by 2020.

To help get us there, our community partners will create programs that increase the availability of obesity prevention and weight loss services at neighborhood schools and produce obesity reduction programs at two community health centers. Starting this spring, an afterschool walking club for neighborhood kids will take its first steps.

But we will need your help, too.

Get involved and meet your neighbors outside of Cocula Restaurant in Little Village on Tuesday, April 24 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to conduct the walkability study. You can also join the fight by donating to United Way’s health impact area. Your contribution will support our efforts to reduce childhood obesity and create healthier and more vibrant community for thousands of growing children across the Chicago region.

A City of Neighbors

Chicago is not only a city of neighborhoods – it’s a city of neighbors.

At United Way of Metro Chicago, we’re in the business of meeting our neighbors all across the city and suburbs. We understand that people living in our communities of focus often know better than anyone else what their communities need, so we dedicate our resources to helping our agency partners best meet their goals.

This extends to our volunteering. We know that volunteers can make a big difference for cash-strapped non-profit organizations, but we also know that preparing for a volunteer’s arrival or being available to answer their questions requires staff capacity. That’s why we ask our agencies to tell us when and how they can use volunteer assistance in order to help them find the support they need.

Fortunately, we have amazing volunteers who give us endless reasons to celebrate this National Volunteer Week. Did you know that people who volunteer report being both happier and healthier than those who don’t? They are also likely to derive great satisfaction from having made a difference by serving others.

Volunteers with United Way partners and programs also have a chance to meet some incredible neighbors.

Neighbors like Principal Michael Hinton at Hoyne Elementary School in South Chicago, who hosted our United for the Holidays event last December. Principal Hinton cares deeply about his students and getting them the resources they need, especially when their needs include basic items such as winter coats and a warm meal. His hospitality extends through his staff and students, all of whom welcomed our volunteers—often with hugs—into their school.

Or neighbors who accessed free tax preparation assistance through the Center for Economic Progress’s VITA program, like a father of four from the Brighton Park community. This neighbor, who supports his entire family on a $27,000 income, worked with volunteer tax preparers who helped him access a huge tax refund with the EITC tax credit. When he learned of his refund, he thanked the volunteers with quiet dignity and genuine gratefulness.

Sometimes our neighbors are children, like the pre-school students who attend Carole Robertson Center for Learning in North Lawndale. They loved nothing more than having their faces painted at a summer carnival hosted in the Center’s backyard, which was made possible thanks to the creativity and steady hand of volunteers.

If you’re ready to start meeting your neighbors, we hope you’ll check out our new Volunteer Calendar. We created this calendar to allow our agency partners to tell us about their volunteer needs, and to give potential volunteers a clear picture of how they can help their communities. There are opportunities for groups and individuals at agencies in the city and the suburbs. Some need volunteers to support a one-time project, while others need people who can commit to come back week after week.

All of our opportunities provide volunteers with the chance to meet their neighbors and serve the communities in greatest need.

We hope you’ll come out and start meeting your neighbors too.

Make An Impact This Tax Season

The 2017 tax season is underway, and folks are hastily filing their taxes. The accompanying refund is always a welcome site for taxpayers, as the extra cash can give some people an opportunity to splurge on a nice dinner or save for an upcoming vacation. But for others, the tax return is necessary in order to pay for this week’s groceries or next month’s rent.

The most elementary components of our financial system can be difficult to understand, and the new federal tax-reform law has made substantial changes to a topic that is already extremely complex. Some people can hire qualified tax preparers to help them receive the full benefit of their tax return – but others can’t afford that luxury. For low-income families, a tax refund can be an opportunity to alleviate heavy financial distress, yet without help many will only see a fraction of their total refund, if any at all.

To tackle this challenge, we support Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs in our Neighborhood Networks. These services offer free tax assistance for households that make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and taxpayers for whom English is a second language. VITA programs have a high accuracy rate and are trusted in the neighborhoods in which they operate, which is perfect for low-income families who are often left susceptible to predatory tax preparation practices.

Ladder Up is one of our partners in this work. In 2017 they engaged over 1,000 volunteers who helped secure $17.5 million in tax refunds for the community. Ladder Up has also incorporated financial literacy services that help educate taxpayers about other eligibilities, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable credit for low-income workers that can reduce their taxes while increasing their refund.

Jennifer Lambert, Ladder Up’s TAP Program Manager, believes that tax season is an opportunity to invest in the community on a broader scale. “We’ve begun to try to integrate financial literacy with the tax assistance workshops because the two programs are so closely intertwined,” Lambert explains. “Many of our clients return year after year, but ultimately our goal is to give them skills to do these things on their own.”

Ladder Up’s tax assistance program relies on a group of generous volunteers who give up their time during the busy tax season. Some of the volunteers that serve with Ladder Up are in the finance or law industry, but “off-the-street” volunteers make up a significant portion of their volunteer base as well. And there’s always a need. At United Way, part of our mission is to fight for the financial stability of every person in Chicago. In order to continue offering programs like VITA and financial literacy resources, we need your help! Our partners at Ladder Up and Center for Economic Progress still need volunteers. Join the fight for a stronger and more financially stable region. Click here to get involved and volunteer with a VITA program near you.

The 4th Annual YLS IGNITE

The 4th annual YLS IGNITE was one of our most successful yet! This event is an opportunity for young philanthropists of the Young Leaders Society to help raise funds for a different United Way program each year, all while having a fun-filled evening. This year’s event was at Savage Smyth, one of Chicago’s hottest venues. We were joined by Israel Idonije, founder of iF Charities and former Defensive End for the Chicago Bears, as well as our emcee for the evening, WGN-TV anchor, Dan Ponce. The festivities included a live band, The Local Jokes, as well as dancing, drinks, a photo booth and a rooftop ice skating rink.

IGNITE was made possible by the generous donations of 26 corporate sponsors, including our patron sponsors, Exelon and the Skender Foundation. After thoughtful donations, ticket sales and silent auction proceeds, the event raised more than $95,000.

The proceeds from IGNITE will help support our AmeriCorps members’ work across the Chicago region. With these donations, United Way will have the resources to provide members with invaluable training sessions and to maintain their community-service programs. Thanks to YLS and the annual IGNITE event, the amazing service of the AmeriCorps members will have an even greater impact within our communities.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. For more than a century, women and men of all races and ethnicities have come together to celebrate the achievements and progress towards gender equality. We celebrate the heroic sacrifices of brave women before us – women who spent their lives paving a path towards gender parity. International Women’s Day also reminds us of what still needs to be done and serves as a call to action to continue the fight.

Over the last century we have seen women become elected officials, sports icons and astronauts. Women now have a higher college admission rate than men and more women go to the polls to vote than ever before. Yet the challenges for American women are still substantial: 200,000 single moms live on an income less than $40,000, 85% of domestic abuse victims are women, 2/3 of illiterate people are women and the list goes on. And that’s just in the U.S.

Our work at United Way of Metro Chicago is focused on advancing the common good and providing the basic needs and opportunities that all people deserve. We celebrate International Women’s Day to bring awareness to the fight for gender equality and basic human rights that women continue to face in our own communities.

At United Way of Metro Chicago, we take this global issue and address it locally. For example, in West Chicago many working mothers have trouble accessing the products needed to meet their family’s basic needs. In partnership with the school district and WeGo Together for Kids, the lead agency in the West Chicago Neighborhood Network, United Way helped to address this issue through a series of Family Wellness Nights. Each event offered free medical, dental and vision screenings, free water filters, health and utility savings education sessions and $5.00 car seats. Throughout Chicago, approximately 50% of all women who are homeless report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. To support these women we partner with women’s shelters that provide a safe haven, as well as the support and services necessary for victims of domestic violence to experience recovery and healing.

We fight for every person in every neighborhood. No matter the obstacles. No matter the odds. We celebrate International Women’s Day because it’s in our DNA. International Women’s Day is an opportunity for people all over the world to coalesce and fight against the gender inequality that is still taking place. The challenges that women face are far-reaching and impactful, but the largest and most complex challenges can always be solved through the power of a community working together towards a common goal.

To join the fight share why International Women’s Day is important to you in the comments below, or by tagging us @unitedwaychi on social media.

A Safe Haven for Victims of Domestic Violence

The scope of domestic violence is vast and many times hidden behind closed doors leaving victims feeling trapped with nowhere to turn.  But for Megan,* enough was enough. She courageously began planning how she and her children would escape from her abuser months in advance. It all started with a phone call to Family Shelter Service’s 24-hour hotline.  Megan shared her story with a counselor who was able to coach her on the safest way to get out of the violent situation and where she could go for safety.

Lauren DeSimone, Director of Advancement at Family Shelter Service, based in the western suburb of Downers Grove, said that brave phone call was the first big step in Megan’s journey to free herself from her abuser. However, due to the state budget crisis, the organization was facing its own battle, including the possibility of cuts to vital programs that save the lives of people like Megan and her family.

“The situation was dire,” said DeSimone. “Without the support of United Way, more victims of domestic violence could have died.” DeSimone explained that due to the lack of funding, the shelter’s resources and capacity to accept victims was severely limited, forcing them to turn away almost 15,000 people. This means many victims inevitably returned to the abusive relationships they were trying to flee.  We at United Way of Metro Chicago fight for the safety of all individuals, and partner with agencies working to empower those impacted by the epidemic of domestic violence.  With United Way’s support, Family Shelter Service was able to not only maintain, but expand life saving services, including building more rooms to house abuse victims and hiring more counselors to address clients’ mental health needs.  DeSimone explains that support is needed now more than ever. “In 2017 (approximately) five women lost their lives as a result of domestic violence in DuPage County.” With the number of fatal cases of domestic violence increasing, it’s vital that there are strong social services in place to protect victims like Megan’s family.

On that cold November morning, Megan hastily bundled up her two boys and began the journey that would change the course of their future. Once her family was comfortably settled at Family Shelter Service’s facility, Megan was able to start rebuilding her life. She sought the expert assistance of one of the organization’s Court Advocates who accompanied her to the courthouse, where she was granted an order of protection from her abuser.  Megan and her children also participated in group and individual counseling. She was able to focus on healing, knowing that her children were finally safe and able to sleep without fear.

It’s the work of United Way partner organizations like Family Shelter Service that truly makes a difference in our community.  Cuts to social services can greatly impact an organization’s ability to continue providing vital life saving services and the result could be catastrophic for people like Megan who have nowhere else to turn. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence call the Family Shelter Service hotline at 630-469-5650.

Make a gift today to support United Way’s safety net impact work.

Donate Today

*Name has been changed.

Cultivating a Culture of Mentorship in Austin

At the age of 16, Austin resident Jeramie McGill was at a crossroads in his life.  Like many high school students, he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his future.  It was his involvement in a youth mentoring sports program provided by St. Joseph Services (SJS), a partner agency of United Way of Metro Chicago, where he would discover his passion for helping others and become a leader in his community.

His work in youth and community development began after he graduated high school through the support of a Youth Mentor at SJS, Bradly Johnson.  “When I graduated, I had no direction,” said Jeramie. “Bradly didn’t want me to end up taking the wrong path, so he encouraged me to stay involved with the organization.”  This advice would be the catalyst that would solidify Jeramie’s passion for helping Austin’s youth to reach their fullest potential.  

Jeramie transitioned seamlessly from SJS mentee to volunteer. Jeramie found himself thriving as a mentor to kids participating in SJS after school programs and coordinating basketball activities as part of the open gym program. His drive earned him a title and a paycheck; being offered the role of part-time program coordinator. “I was ecstatic when I was offered the job,” Jeramie said.  “I’ve been with the organization ever since then, and have never stopped loving it and giving it my all.” As Jeramie transitioned from mentee to mentor the baton was officially handed down from Bradly, and Jeramie realized he had found his calling.

Now 28 years-old, he boasts the title of Youth Development and Outreach Manager for St. Joseph Services.  Jeramie  works to build the relationship he had with his mentor, with his mentees, much like Bradly did for him. “Bradly was my idol – he was authentic, and he never sugar coated anything,” Jeramie said. “I follow his tactics and utilize his approach of giving honest feedback to my mentees, because it worked for me.”  Bradly and Jeramie still keep in touch to this day. 

It is bonds like this that have an everlasting impact on the lives of young people as they try to “figure it all out.” Jeramie recalled having the opportunity to build a relationship with a young man named Thomas. Thomas had difficulty expressing himself around peers and adults and didn’t like to ask for help or admit when he was wrong.  In order to break through Thomas’s barriers and help him build confidence, Jeramie would offer him rides from Austin to the SJS Humbolt Park facility.  This gesture gave them time to get to know each other.  “I want to identify their strengths first,” said Jeramie, “Because then you can translate that strength into a hobby, academic focus or a career.” After getting to know Thomas, Jeramie was able to help him improve his interpersonal skills and learned he had an interest in art.   With this knowledge, Jeramie was able to help Thomas develop and hone his passion and skills in painting, which has given him confidence and career prospects. 

Jeramie started as a participant of St. Joseph Services and through hard work and determination became a vital part of the organization. His efforts not only improve the lives of his mentees, but he also inspires them to give back to the Austin community.  United Way of Metro Chicago is proud to partner with agencies like St. Joseph Services who work to strengthen their communities through youth development, and Jeramie is a prime example of a community leader who inspires us to continue our fight for stronger neighborhoods and a stronger Chicago region.   Thank you, Jeramie McGill, for your leadership in the Austin Community!