South Chicago Students Splurge at Back-To-School Shopping Spree

For many families in the Chicago region, the annual ritual of back-to-school shopping can put their wallets in a pinch. The cost of school supplies, clothing and backpacks adds up quickly, especially for families with multiple children.

To ease the financial burden and prepare students for their first day, United Way of Metro Chicago teamed up with Target to offer $100 shopping sprees to hundreds of local students in the weeks leading up to their return to school.

On a sunny August morning, nearly 100 elementary through high school students from the South Chicago neighborhood excitedly arrived at Target aboard two yellow school buses, where they were greeted and presented with gift cards for their shopping. For three hours, the energetic students scoured the aisles of the megastore, selecting a colorful array of backpacks, lunch-boxes, clothing and supplies.

“This is what our community needs. We need organizations that actually care for our students and are willing to provide options that we don’t have and to give us a financial lift. This helps a lot,” said Brian Sayles, of the shopping spree. Brian is the father of Averi and Bryce, two students at Amelia Earhart Chicago Public Elementary School.

“It’s been great, and I really like the fact that they provided school buses for people who didn’t have another option. We appreciate that a lot,” he added as the family stood in the checkout line assessing their haul, which included pencils, poster-board, paper, socks and more.

Larry Clark, the father of Mariah and Jeremiah, a 2nd grader and 3rd grader from Amelia Earhart Elementary School, shared similar sentiments. “It’s been wonderful. I think the families will benefit greatly,” he said, pushing a cart full of highlighters, notebooks, backpacks and pencils. “It’s that time of the year when you get all the school supplies. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get them ready for the first day of school.” 

Other families attending the spree used their gift cards to buy required school uniforms, which can often be a costly purchase at a time when additional supplies are needed. “I think it’s a wonderful cause. It helps out a lot. I appreciate it, I really do,” said Sheila Ramsay, the grandmother of Ryleigh Hull, a student at Thomas Hoyne Fine Arts Elementary School. Ryleigh was eager to glitz up her uniform with her new pastel, glittery socks on her first day of second grade.

The South Chicago Neighborhood Network was instrumental in connecting students to the shopping experience. This coalition of community partners is a part of United Way’s region-wide strategic plan to address neighborhood challenges through focused collaboration between community stakeholders. 

“[This spree] gets kids excited for going back to school and helps the parents not have to worry about all the added expenses, especially if they have multiple kids. In communities like South Chicago, having that extra help is needed,” said Tevonne Ellis, coordinator of the South Chicago Neighborhood Network.   

Target’s team of employees were enthusiastic to host the spree and give back to their neighbors. “I think my team members are the most excited. We don’t usually see this many people here this early in the morning, “said Lindsay Foster, the store’s executive team leader of human resources, with a laugh. “It’s exciting, especially right before back to school. The kids come in and they’re ready to shop. They’re buying their backpacks. We just know they’re going to have a great first day of school.”  

The South Chicago kids aren’t the only ones headed back to school in style. Throughout the month, hundreds of students residing in the nine other United Way Neighborhood Network communities also attended back-to-school shopping sprees at their local Target stores.

United Way of Metro Chicago would like to thank Target for its generosity in helping prepare these students to return to school, as well as the Neighborhood Network leaders in Austin, Auburn Gresham, Blue Island-Robbins, Evanston, South Chicago, West Chicago, Little Village, Bronzeville, Cicero and Brighton Park that connected the students to the sprees! Because of them, these kids will start their school year on the right foot.

 

What’s a Neighborhood Network?

The team at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago had an idea. They already knew that the people best equipped and most dedicated to creating positive change in their communities were the members of the community themselves. They saw that in Chicago, nonprofit organizations and human service providers were already working to establish affordable and comprehensive health care, safety regulations and engaging educational programs for their residents. But these groups weren’t always working in sync, and were often severely underfunded. United Way thought that that by connecting these partners, leveraging their capabilities to help each other share knowledge and resources, and combining their voices to be heard, these communities could become louder, stronger and more impactful. The Neighborhood Network Initiative was born.

Ten communities comprise the Neighborhood Network. They each have a lead agency–a partner organization in the community that serves as the director for that Neighborhood Network. They also have their own Community Engagement Manager from United Way who connects the work in the communities to United Way. Each Neighborhood Network was chosen “based on both level of need and their capacity to improve lives for their residents with the additional investment, partners and strategies of the Neighborhood Network model.” After connecting agencies and organizations in the community and bringing them to the table, the network chooses a bold goal, a concrete objective they will work to achieve in the coming years. These goals are long term, as is all of the work being done by the Neighborhood Networks–their purpose is to create lasting change by attacking systemic issues with an integrated, focused and community level approach.The neighborhoods are divided into cohorts based on their level of progress in establishing their bold goals, finding partners and establishing organizational permanence. Cohort One, the most developed neighborhoods, is made up of West Chicago and Brighton Park. Cohort Two includes Evanston, Austin and Little Village, and Cohort 3 includes Auburn- Gresham, Bronzeville, South Chicago, Cicero and Robbins/ Blue Island.

Community organizing in the Neighborhood Networks is based on the concept of collective impact. “Collective impact is a proven, effective framework used to bring a range of actors together to solve complex social problems. Unlike partnerships or traditional collaborations, collective impact moves participants to act beyond their self-interest and to act towards a common (community) interest.” There are five basic tenets of collective impact–shared measurement, reinforcing activities that establish a coordinated plan to address an agreed upon problem, a common agenda, continuous communication and a backbone organization. For the Neighborhood Networks, United Way serves as that backbone–providing funding, connecting partners and keeping the networks on track to meet their goals. They also provide a sense of legitimacy to their member agencies, attaching a trusted name to the work they do in order to find more partners and secure additional financial backing.

The purpose of the Neighborhood Network Initiative is to organize and invest in communities that are working to help their residents all fulfill their human potential and increase their quality of life. The role of United Way is not to tell these neighborhoods how to operate or what to do. Rather, they work to keep these networks focused and financed so they can fulfill the needs of their own communities and create lasting change. Check back in with our blog or with the neighborhoods’ home pages to learn more!

Blog submitted by: Elana Ross, Intern, Public Policy and Advocacy