By Kim Grimshaw Bolton
Photo by Shaz Rasul

The season’s first cold snap did not deter nearly 40 nonprofit leaders from turning out at 9 a.m., on a Saturday for the Doing Good, Writing Well workshop, sponsored by the Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago, an initiative of the Office of Civic Engagement.

The half-day workshop was the first in the Community Programs Accelerator’s Community Programs Education Series for community groups. It was a collaboration between the Accelerator, UChicago Medicine, and the University’s Career Advancement office. UChicago Medicine recommended the workshop to nonprofit organizations that have applied for its Community Benefits grants; students worked with the attendees to fine-tune their mission statements and goals.

Nadia Salibi, Community Benefit Program Manager in UChicago Medicine’s Office of Community Affairs, said, “This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while. We provide grants to nonprofits working in our five health priority areas, and we want them to be successful. This was an opportunity to build capacity on the South Side.”

“The students at University of Chicago are an untapped resource for communities,” said Gregory Gaither, founder of the Woodlawn Community Re-Entry Project and an UChicago Medicine referral. “I’ve written grants before, but this experience really reinforced my grant-writing abilities. The students were outstanding in being able to cite those gaps in my understanding about writing grants.”

“It was a very intellectually stimulating experience working with the groups. There was a lot of collaboration between them, which we as volunteers helped to facilitate,” said David Valencia, a fourth-year student in the College, who volunteered on behalf of the UChicago Careers in Public and Social Service (UCIPSS) - Philanthropy and Institutional Development program. “It was very exciting to see different organizations take interest in each other and provide their insight to one another. I learned a lot about the different challenges that these organizations face in the community and made a handful of professional connections that I will maintain for the future.”

Nora Feely, Program Director for UCIPSS, said, “The grant workshop was an amazing opportunity for the Philanthropy and Institutional Development students to engage one-on-one with their community members and put their grant training into action. I think both the students and participants learned a lot, and we are so glad the Office of Civic Engagement partnered with us to make it happen.”

In October, the Community Programs Accelerator selected four nonprofits to receive a suite of support, ranging from strategic planning to office space. The Accelerator will be providing project-specific support to an additional seven “Associate” organizations. The Education Series is open to the community at large, but was designed especially for the organizations that applied for the Accelerator but were not chosen; organizations like Annie’s Legacy, founded by Beverly Billy, who attended the writing workshop. “Although I was not selected for the incubator, I was invited to attend all the workshops, which I think is an amazing gift for me and a great opportunity.”

Ryan Priester, Associate Director for Community Programs in the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, is organizing the workshop series. He explained, “People are doing good work, but they’re not telling their story well. We had them bring in materials they already had, so they could leave with something tangible they could use right away.”

“I have written grants before,” said Beverly Davis, founder and CEO of Prosperity House. ”One I received, the others I didn’t. Coming here allowed me the opportunity to find out why, what can I change, and all of that. It was really, really helpful.”

La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, founder of the Girls Like Me Project, also appreciated the opportunity. “They went over everything. I loved the whole thing. I don’t have any question about what’s necessary for a grant,” she said. “I’m not intimidated by the process like I was before.” When asked about next steps, she said, “I’m going to make sure that I stay connected so I can come to more of these workshops.“

The next workshop, Technology & the Nonprofit: Planning Ahead to Prevent Falling Behind, will be held on Wednesday, December 10, from 12-1:30 p.m., at the Chicago Innovation Exchange. It will feature Chris Riedel, of UChicago’s IT Services. Future sessions will include evaluation techniques from the Crime Lab, nonprofit financing guidance from IFF, and advice on board development from the Civic Knowledge Project.

Originally published on December 3, 2014.