U. of C. Accelerator adds 3 South Side nonprofits to Core Program

Derek R.B. Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs at the University of Chicago (at lectern), acknowledges representatives from groups entering into partnerships with the Community Programs Accelerator at the Logan Center for the Arts. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff Writer

The University of Chicago Community Programs Accelerator, part of the Office of Civic Engagement, added three South Side community nonprofits — Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN), the Provident Foundation and Affinity Community Services — to its Core Program and will provide them with up to $50,000 in funding over the course of the next three years.

The Accelerator connects nonprofit organizations from Bronzeville to South Shore and Greater Grand Crossing with U. of C. resources, allowing them to grow. The Accelerator has served 120 organizations since 2014 and expects to serve 200 by the end of the year. This year, 93 organizations applied to participate in the Core Program.

On Friday, Derek R.B. Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement and External Affairs, said the organizations “try to do whatever they can to make a difference — for their friends, for their family, for their neighborhood, for the city.” He said that when he was doing outreach as former President Barack Obama’s Special Assistant for Urban Affairs, organizations would always stress the need for assistance in capacity-building.

“I view that as a critical issue facing the country,” he said. “The idea behind the Community Programs Accelerator was really the idea of how we could leverage the expertise of faculty and students, the resources of the University; how can we partner with community organizations to make a difference in our neighborhoods.”

Accelerator community programs director Ryan K. Priester agreed. “We all firmly believe in the self-determined direction of the South Side to make itself a better place,” he said. “What I think about is how we can extend the resources of the University of Chicago so that it feels like a member of this community, so that the community has access to our resources.”

WECAN, founded in 1980, is working to keep residents in the community of Woodlawn, especially in light of the neighborhood’s changing demographics. It provides, maintains and advocates for affordable housing with support services.

The Provident Foundation, founded in 1995, provides education, opportunities and access in the medical industry to young people of color to preserve the legacy of Provident Hospital in Washington Park.

Affinity, a community services and social justice organization primarily dedicated to serving Black queer women. Its current efforts emphasize leadership capacity and decreasing the wage gap; it is currently building a toolkit on those matters based on a summit held last year.

“I’m really excited to see what this will look like because we’re a small organization, but we’re doing a lot of work and finding best practices, meeting with other local nonprofits, doing this work,” said Imani Rupert-Gordon, Affinity’s executive director. “Transforming the South Side is really the work that we want to do, and so we’re excited to be part of this.”

While only organizations in the Core Program receive funding, organizations in the Associates Program such as Hyde Park Village, which Priester said participates every year, receive capacity-building support from Accelerator staff and interns for three to five projects over a year. The Accelerator’s Special Projects receive technical assistance to address an issue or project over an academic quarter or two.

Other Hyde Park–Kenwood organizations that have participated in the Accelerator include Blue Gargoyle, Strive Tutoring, the Coalition for Equitable Community Development, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club and City Elementary.