Announcing the Winners of the 2021 Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Awards

The Make It Better Foundation (MIBF) is thrilled to announce the winners of its annual Philanthropy Awards, presented by Wintrust.

This year, the Make It Better Foundation’s Academy of Judges — a vibrant community of esteemed venture philanthropists, past winners, sponsors and thought leaders — reviewed and narrowed an impressive pool of 86 applicants — a 100% increase over 2019 applications.

The winners, in the categories of Human Services-Empowerment, Social Services, and Education, join more than 40 worthy nonprofits recognized in previous years. The Foundation offers its sincerest congratulations to the inspirational winners and to the dedicated employees and volunteers who keep these nonprofits going strong.

Launched in 2012, the Philanthropy Awards recognize winners based on five criteria: excellence, scalability, efficiency, leadership and effective- ness. In response to the program’s ongoing popularity and long-term benefit to winners, the Foundation also launched the inaguaral Bay Area Philanthropy Awards this year.

The Philanthropy Awards are presented by Wintrust along with video presentation sponsor William Blair and supporting sponsor Northwestern Kellogg Center for Nonprofit Management.

Human Services-Empowerment: Breakthrough

Breakthrough, founded in 1992, has a hyper-local focus within the East Garfield Park Community on Chicago’s West Side. It partners with people affected by poverty and helps them to build connections, develop skills and open doors of opportunity. 

breakthrough youth

One of the ways Breakthrough partners with residents is through behavioral health services. In its fiscal year 2020, Breakthrough served 344 individuals with behavioral health services, including 114 people in the Transitional Housing program and 230 in the Daytime Support Centers.

In the Transitional Housing program, 100% of participants reported therapy helped them make better choices and 82% reported an increased awareness of the relationship between trauma, choices and behavior.

breakthrough youth

Breakthrough provides a comprehensive and integrated approach to healthcare involving medical, mental health, behavioral and den- tal care. It provides access to healthcare for a vulnerable population, while improving health literacy, decreasing care fragmentation and addressing behavioral and social determinants of health.

The organization operates two transitional housing shelters which house 30 men and 30 women who complete a program designed for a rapid-rehousing within 120 days.

Donate Now:

$1,000: Provides two weeks of behavioral health needs assessments and care coordination at one of Breakthrough’s shelter facilities

$10,000: Provides 10 weeks of behavioral health needs assessments and care coordination at both of Breakthrough’s shelter facilities and provides training for 7 staff to meet the heightened mental health needs of participants

Contact: Breakthrough, 402 N St Louis Ave., Chicago; 773.722.1144;

By the Numbers: Breakthrough

  • Served 344 individuals with Behavioral Health services last year, including 114 individuals in the Transitional Housing program.
  • 100% of Transitional Housing program participants last year reported that therapy helped them make better choices.

Education: Chicago Fire Foundation

The Chicago Fire Foundation operates a first-of-its-kind program called P.L.A.Y.S., an acronym for Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth, Soccer. The initiative, which serves Black and Brown at-risk youth, uses soccer to teach social and emotional learning. Students then apply these traits to academics for continued educational success, all within a safe and inclusive environment in which to play soccer. 

plays chicago fire foundation

The Foundation, established in 1998, believes it is crucial that students have access to resources early in education that prepare them for success, increasing their likelihood of completing high school and improving their greater life chances. 

P.L.A.Y.S. has seen more than 200,000 hours of soccer played by more than 4,000 youth throughout underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. The program runs for 10 weeks, five out-of-school hours per week during the fall and spring seasons. Teachers from each of the 40 participating schools are involved as program coaches.

Curriculum includes a lesson each week, focused on educational and life skills topics with corresponding soccer drills reinforcing weekly themes. For example, equality is paired with drills to highlight communication and teamwork, reiterating it doesn’t matter what you look like when you play, we are one team. 

plays chicago fire foundation

To ensure the program’s continued success, online resources were added for teachers and students. These include videos reinforcing the curriculum from Chicago Fire players teaching sportsmanship, sharing life experiences and demonstrating soccer drills. The videos also include virtual teacher training and webinars evoking feelings of community and family engagement. This ensures a holistic approach to the program model and extending education beyond the school day.

Donate Now:

$1,000: Pays for bus transportation for one participating P.L.A.Y.S. Program school for an entire season

$10,000: Covers training and development for all P.L.A.Y.S. Program coaches as well as the curriculum log book for all 1000 student participants for an entire season

Contact: Chicago Fire Foundation, 1 N. Dearborn, Ste. 1300, 872.710.0740,

By the Numbers: Chicago Fire Foundation

  • Serves CPS students across the most at- risk areas in the city with nearly 60% of students living in the top 20 most violent neighborhoods in Chicago.
  • More than 200,000 hours of soccer played by more than 400,000 youth throughout underserved neighborhoods in Chicago.

Social Services: The Night Ministry 

The Night Ministry’s programs, founded in 1976, fall under two categories: Youth Services and Health Outreach. The overreaching goals of these programs are to provide homeless and vulnerable young people and adults with the support, resources and confidence to overcome obstacles and improve circumstances. The programs are secular and known for supporting people without concern for race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation. 

night ministry
Photo Courtesy of Othervertical, Inc.

During its fiscal year 2020, Night Ministry, which receives just 20% of its funding from the government, served 5,760 people. The Outreach and Health Ministry program made 34,695 outreach contacts, provided 2,669 health assessments and prevented 378 visits to the emergency room. 

Street Medicine distributed 8,746 sack lunches and 4,905 hygiene kits. More than 700 people living with chronic health conditions, including asthma and diabetes, received care from the Outreach and Health Ministry Team. Without this team, these individuals’ conditions would have gone untreated. More than 460 young people and 38 infants/toddlers were sheltered across the organization’s five youth housing programs. 

Seventy-four percent of discharged residents from the Interim Housing Program transitioned to more safe and stable housing, 62% of discharged residents from the STEPS Transitional Living Program transitioned to long-term housing, 73% of guests staying at The Crib Overnight Emergency Shelter were connected to supportive services.  

Donate Now:


  • Provides more than 200 wound care kits to people living on the streets; or
  • Supports approximately 10 medical visits with nurse practitioners


  • Provides individual assistance to young people within The Crib Emergency Overnight Shelter Program; or
  • Laundry services to The Crib for eight months

Contact: The Night Ministry, 1735 North Ashland Ave., Ste. 2000, Chicago; 773.506.6005;

By the Numbers: The Night Ministry

  • Last year, the Outreach and Health Ministry Program provided 2,669 health assessments, and prevented 378 ER visits.
  • 469 young people and 38 infants/toddlers were sheltered across The Night Ministry’s five youth housing programs last year.

The Night Ministry was featured on CBS Chicago on May 19, 2021. Watch the coverage on MIBTV.

The Judges

Adam Alonso, BUILD
Mark Angelini, Mercy Housing
Lou Bank, Dolores Kohl Education Foundation
Jeanne Bishop, Office of the Cook County (IL) Public Defender 
Greg Cameron, The Joffrey Ballet
Mindy Fauntleroy, Make It Better Foundation
Mary Fran, Allies for Community Business
Yusef Garcia, Forefront
Nancy Gianni, GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Centers
Utica Gray, Fresh Start Caring For Kids Foundation 
Sharon Krone, Make It Better Foundation
Kristen McNamara, JP Morgan
Maura Mitchell, Women’s Business Development Center 
Susan Noyes, Make It Better Foundation
Jennifer Paul, Kellogg Graduate School of Management 
Cindy Rawlings, Evanston Community Bank & Trust 
Crystal Robinson, The Siragusa Family Foundation 
Kathy Roeser, The Roeser Group at Morgan Stanley 
David Scherer, One Million Degrees
Katie Taylor, Northwestern University Settlement House 
Sandy Tsuchida, Make It Better Foundation
Seth Weinberger, Innovations for Learning
Barbara Wolf, Invest for Kids

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