Shelley A. Davis, The Coleman Foundation’s New President and CEO, Reflects on Making a Difference Through the Pandemic

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In 2020, the world as we knew it came to a halt and will in many ways never be the same. We lost so many to an unforgiving virus that is hardest on the most vulnerable, and we continue to fight its spread. We watched our children struggle as quarantines and lockdowns isolated them from their friends, teachers, and extracurricular activities. We thanked and generously tipped essential workers, knowing no amount of graciousness would compensate for the fear of working in unsafe conditions without PPE or vaccines.

We repeatedly witnessed injustice at the hands of police — who have sworn to protect us. While peaceful protests emerged — civil unrest followed. Vandalism and looting damaged our neighborhoods. Local businesses closed permanently. I struggled to explain to my children the city’s rationale for temporarily suspending food service at Chicago Public Schools and raising the bridges that connected us to pharmacies and grocery stores. My family chose to participate in peaceful protests while ensuring social distance like good citizens.

Shelly A. Davis | Copyright ©Ozzie Ramsay Photography LLC

Yet, 2020 also provided many opportunities for gratitude. My family stayed safe, avoided the virus, and supported elders. And I was given a remarkable opportunity to make a difference by joining The Coleman Foundation as its new President and CEO.

In my short tenure here, I have heard a repeated refrain from many of our grantees. They tell me the story of the day they picked up the phone to find a Coleman Foundation program officer’s voice on the other end asking about the impact of the pandemic on their organization and wondering how we could help. We listened and responded with general operating grants, with unrestricted funds, with emergency matching grants — we used all the tools at our disposal to help our grantees keep their doors open and fulfill their missions.

The Coleman Foundation PPE Equipment Chicago
The Coleman Foundation purchased PPE equipment for essential workers.

For example:  

  • St. Anthony Hospital in Little Village had Illinois’ fourth largest census of COVID patients, which overwhelmed their 15 ICU beds. Coleman funding helped them purchase wireless equipment enabling staff to monitor critical patients remotely, effectively extending the ICU capacity from 15 beds to 34. 
  • In response to the effects of riots and looting on small businesses, Coleman awarded funds to business support organizations to assist neighborhood-based entrepreneurs with applications to the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan initiative, as well as with applications to other state, city and privately funded programs to stabilize and grow their businesses.
  • When the City launched its targeted vaccine program to reach the 15 communities most impacted by the pandemic, our grantees at The University of Chicago and Project Chicago Plus launched a pop-up clinic to serve the southside neighborhoods of Roseland, Washington Heights and South Deering.
Damage to a small business after the 2020 riots and looting.

Anyone can learn more about our grantmaking investments here. I am deeply grateful for the responsiveness of our staff, the leadership of our board, and the commitment of our entire Coleman team. We take our partnerships with our grantees and peers seriously. We know that working in philanthropy is a privilege that comes with great responsibility to serve our community. We do this work leading with respect for the business owners and health care providers who are on the front lines of service every day.


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