2023 Philanthropy Award Winners: 3 Organizations Making the Greatest Impact in Violence Interruption and Prevention in Chicago

The Make It Better Foundation recently hosted its 2023 Philanthropy Awards with emcee Suzanne Le Mignot of CBS 2 Chicago to honor the Chicago-area nonprofits working to make a difference in violence interruption and prevention throughout the city. 

This year, the Make It Better Foundation recognized recipients with evidence-based programs that prevent gun violence by supporting mental health services, crisis prevention plans, youth engagement, hyper-local collaborations, street outreach intervention and nonviolence training. The recipients earned an award package valued at more than $25,000 to continue funding their efforts, thanks to dedicated sponsors, Wintrust, The Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University, CBS Chicago and Catchafire.

To help evaluate applicants, Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Awards judges sat down with three experts in the field, Roseanna Ander, Executive Director UChicago Crime Lab, Phil Andrew, Co-Founder & Principal of PAX Group and Jeanne Bishop, Cook County Public Defender. Their solutions-based conversation explores an integrated, interdisciplinary understanding of violence reduction and provides a holistic approach to addressing it. Watch highlights from that compelling conversation here:

And the winners are…

Human Services Award Winner: READI Chicago

The 2023 Human Services Award went to READI Chicago, accepted by Senior Director Jorge Matos.

The Human Services Award is given to organizations that address the human service needs of Chicago’s vulnerable population by providing crisis prevention, youth engagement, employment training, cognitive behavioral support and life skills mentoring.

READI Chicago is a trauma-informed model focusing on the intersection between outreach, cognitive behavioral interventions and transitional jobs. READI started in 2017 as a response to the high rates of shootings and homicides throughout Chicago. The goal was to target the highest-risk individuals and work with them to change their thinking, regulate their behaviors and create subsidized and unsubsidized employment opportunities.

Even though the men they work with are 45 times more likely to experience gun violence than the average Chicagoan, this program reduces the likelihood of them experiencing or perpetrating shootings and homicides by over 30%.

“Our city is no stranger to violence. It has become so common that we have begun to normalize it,” Matos said. “Growing up on the Northwest side of Chicago, I was taught at an early age that if A happens, B has to happen mandatory. There was no alternative. There was no other way. Now looking back, I know differently.”

“Programs like READI Chicago help participants gain a new perspective,” Matos continued. “Through this award, you are uplifting [our work] in community violence intervention. You are creating a safer and more rewarding future for READI participants and their families.”

Health and Mental Wellness Award Winner: UCAN

The 2023 Health and Mental Wellness Award went to UCAN, accepted by President and CEO Christa Hamilton.

The Health and Mental Wellness Award goes to organizations that address the health and mental wellness needs of vulnerable communities in Chicago by promoting self-esteem, self-care and emotional well-being, primarily among youth and teens. 

UCAN works to reduce the prevalence of community violence and its impact throughout North Lawndale and Roseland by providing trauma-informed services to children exposed to violence, poverty and loss to positively redirect their trajectory into adulthood. 

For the past 154 years, UCAN has been a sanctuary for youth who have suffered trauma and neglect through a clinical approach to healing that is united, culturally relevant and consistent. UCAN is laser-focused on helping youth and entire families build robust lives through compassionate, healing education and empowerment. 

“This work is personal for me and the more than 600 dedicated staff who proudly and passionately serve thousands of families across Chicago and Illinois,” Hamilton said. “We pride ourselves on providing a slate of relevant, impactful programs that support our vision that youth who have suffered trauma can become our future leaders. Our integrated, evidence-based programs are tailored to work with and advocate for those in under-resourced communities around Chicago.”

“I am very proud to report, in partnership with our other honorees, that we have reduced violence and reduction in shootings by 41% in the North Lawndale community over the last year, which is the largest drop in any community in Chicago. While there’s so much more that needs to be done, this data encourages us that the true essence of direct service and street outreach combined can be impactful,” Hamilton concluded.

Social Services Award Winner: Metropolitan Peace Initiatives

The 2023 Social Services Award was awarded to Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, a division of Metropolitan Family Services, accepted by Executive Director Vaughn Bryant.

The Social Services Award represents organizations that address the social service needs of Chicago by providing nonviolence training, hyper-local collaboration, violence intervention, de-escalation support and community engagement.

Metropolitan Peace Initiatives convenes community-based violence preventers — called Peacekeepers — to implement hyper-local violence reduction activities in Chicago communities impacted by gun violence. 

“We will be opening a physical location for our Metropolitan Peace Academy this fall,” Bryant announced. “We have a long way to go in terms of the work, but I think many would say that we’re at the best place we’ve ever been — in terms of having a civilian infrastructure for public safety — in this city’s history. Our professional understanding of the police in the Chicago Police Department is at its best place in terms of them respecting the role we play and us respecting the role they play. We both have the same goal in mind, which is to make Chicago the safest, largest city in the United States.”

2023 Philanthropy Award Semifinalists

Many excellent organizations throughout Chicago are working to make a difference in the communities most affected by gun violence. Make It Better Media Group would like to recognize the 2023 Philanthropy Award Semifinalists’ continued effort and dedication to Chicago: Alternatives, Enlace Chicago, Firebird Community Arts, Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Southwest Organizing Project, Urban Gateways and Youth Advocate Program Inc.

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Jessica Braun Gervais is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in health, wellness, and fitness. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from Columbia College and has written content for various health and wellness institutions. Jessica Braun’s passion for wellness comes from her life as an elite athlete competing in Muay Thai kickboxing competitions across the country. In addition to sharing her expertise through writing, Jessica Braun also works as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. When she’s not writing or training, Jessica Braun enjoys reading historical fiction novels, discovering new coffee shops, and cuddling with her cattle dog, Brady.

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