Groups meet to sign annual CCHD grant agreements

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Tuesday, July 2, 2019

For the representatives of 13 organizations that will receive money from the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a June 27 grant award meeting offered more than a chance to sign their agreements. It also offered them a chance to learn about the work other organizations are doing and to network with one another.

The groups work in areas including community organizing, violence prevention, family mentoring, advocating for more resources for schools, negotiating with developers to benefit communities, incubating small businesses in disadvantaged communities and in efforts to create affordable housing.

CCHD, the domestic anti-poverty effort of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, got its start 50 years ago in Chicago, said Elena Segura, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity and CCHD diocesan director. It relies on a second collection taken up in parishes in November, generally the weekend before Thanksgiving, to provide grants to grassroots organizations working to change the root causes of systemic poverty and to educate the public about poverty in the United States.

To qualify for grants, groups must also work to develop leaders within their ranks and have members of the communities they serve in positions of leadership.

The 13 groups at the June 27 meeting will receive $235,000 in funding, with no grant more than $20,000.

A portion of the money collected in the Archdiocese of Chicago goes to the national CCHD office to fund national grants — which Chicago groups are eligible to apply for — and education efforts.

This year, 14 groups based in the Archdiocese of Chicago are expected to receive national grants, which typically are larger than local grants.

Rod Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, said his organization works with people in the Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard and Douglas communities.

“Our mission is to help community residents develop their civic capacity so they can make decisions for their own communities instead of having someone else make decisions on their behalf,” Wilson said.

The group has advocated for lifting the ban on rent control measures in Illinois. They also want developers to build more affordable housing, rather than allowing them to opt out by making a contribution to a fund that is supposed to be used to build affordable housing in the future.

Alliance of the Southeast, which works on the Southeast Side, is providing a voice for community members as developers make plans for now-vacant industrial land, including U.S. Steel’s massive former South Works site. The group wants developers of the former industrial sites to sign community benefit agreements to define what the new developments will bring to the neighborhood.

“The only folks that have money on the table and don’t have a contract are the community members,” said Amalia NietoGomez, the alliance’s executive director. “We want to make sure that communities benefit from development too.”

Teresa Fraga, of the Pilsen Neighborhood Community Council, said members of her group feel threatened by gentrification. They have seen the effects of having the mostly Latino families who lived in Pilsen for decades be replaced by younger singles and couples without children in declining school enrollments, which means the schools could be closed.

“To fight this, we created a school specialization plan,” said Fraga, so that families from surrounding areas or even other parts of the city can choose to send their children to Pilsen schools. “We have almost arrived at where all of our schools have a specialization.”

Among them is Whittier Elementary School, which could become the first dual-language magnet school not on the North Side.

Heather Johnson, who works on the St. Agatha Family Empowerment program, known as SAFE, said the way to decrease violence long-term is to build up families.

“We engage them to decide what they want to fight for, for their children and their community,” Johnson said. “And when we mentor someone, we turn around and say, ‘Who are you going to mentor?’”


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