You Said It: LCCF’s Racial Equity Program Is Building Community and Contributing to Economic Justice in Lake County

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The Lake County Community Foundation (LCCF) brings together philanthropists and donors, along with innovation and ideas, to create impact in Lake County, Illinois — today and for generations to come. 

At LCCF, we believe our mission is best fulfilled when we embrace racial equity, diversity and inclusion (REDI) not only as core values but also as intentional actions.

I was hired in the spring of 2020 to develop LCCF’s Racial Equity Program. This work serves as the foundation for our values, practices and community relationships. Through this program, we hold ourselves accountable to understanding racial equity issues by creating a safe space for meaningful learning.

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LCCF’s Small Business Growth Initiative (SBGI) is a part of the Racial Equity Program and is a great example of how our value of equity manifests in our programs and work. This initiative is designed to collaboratively support small businesses owned by people of color in priority zip codes within Lake County through the infusion of financial, relational and human capital. We take a data-driven and individualized approach to working alongside small business owners to help them meet their specific growth goals while enriching the small business ecosystem with intention to close the racial wealth gap in Lake County. 

The first recipient of our small business grant pilot program is Drip & Culture, a socially minded coffee and apparel brand, located inside the Supermercado Gonzales in Waukegan, Illinois. Through this pilot initiative, LCCF provided a $50,000 grant to Drip & Culture in support of moving their coffee shop from the back of the grocery store to the front, making it more accessible to customers and creating room for future growth. Drip & Culture owners, Adam Carson and Nydia Gonzalez-Carson, were chosen because of the alignment of our values. Not only did we love their business concept and tagline “socially minded coffee,” but we realized very early on in the selection process that granting to Drip & Culture was more than granting to one small business. Adam and Nydia had a vision to build a small business network to support kindred entrepreneurial spirits with similar backgrounds and dreams, in turn cultivating a more robust small business ecosystem in Waukegan. Drip & Culture is using a portion of their grant funds to help support other local entrepreneurs, bringing this vision to a reality. We—Drip and Culture and LCCF—both want to create something bigger than us, something that builds community and contributes to economic justice.

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The SBGI pilot program will set the foundation for a more robust, permanent program that will ultimately result in a network of support for small businesses owned by people of color in 60085, the southern portion of Waukegan. In 2022, we plan to launch a cohort model with three to five grant recipients who will participate in peer-to-peer learning and will receive a grant to support their individual growth goals. 

At LCCF, we are intentional in our outreach and support, not only making it a priority to invest in historically disinvested communities but recognizing there truly is wisdom in every room and prioritizing building authentic and meaningful relationships with our partners and the community. Sharing resources and power within the philanthropic sector completely changes the dynamic of philanthropy and creates a system built from relationships rather than just transactions. There is unity in community and in caring for each other.

About the author:

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Courtney Combs is Manager of Community Impact at Lake County Community Foundation.

Combs began her career in Lake County as an Early Childhood Home Visitor. After working in this position, she realized most families were experiencing systemic issues. Combs was asked to create YWCA Lake County’s Racial Equity Initiative, and their Public Policy and Advocacy Program. These experiences have provided her with a wealth of experience and expertise in strategic planning, community engagement and collaborative impact.

She is a resident of Lake County and is deeply invested in and committed to creating more equitable communities. Combs holds an M.A. in Public Policy from Eastern Illinois University and a B.A. in Sociology from Florida State University. She is currently working on her M.B.A. in Finance at North Park University.

To learn more about The Lake County Community Foundation, visit

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