Bright Promises Foundation, First Chicago Agency for the Protection of Vulnerable Children, Celebrates 150 Years of Service

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This year, Bright Promises Foundation, one of the oldest social service agencies in Illinois, is celebrating 150 years of helping Chicago children and youth reach their full promise and potential.

When we were founded, slavery had been abolished just four years earlier. Much of the country was still ravaged by the American Civil War and child labor laws did not yet exist. At the time, Chicago experienced massive population growth, going from a small settlement of only 4,000 people to the fifth largest city in the country by 1870. No official agency existed for the care and protection of vulnerable children. That is, until our organization was chartered by the State of Illinois thanks to a group of brave, bold citizens who could no longer stand by and do nothing while Chicago children suffered.

We owe so much to these founders, including famous Chicagoans Marshall Field, Belden F. Culver, John G. Shortall, and John B. Sherman, and to the generations of caring and committed individuals who have supported, sustained, and kept Bright Promises on the cutting-edge of children’s services for the past 150 years.

Bright Promises Foundation
Pictured: Children playing on the public drinking fountain that was erected by Bright Promises (formerly known as Illinois Humane Society) at Water Tower Place at the turn of the century, and which is still operating today.

During our first 100 years, we did everything from erecting public drinking fountains, to running settlement houses, to helping to establish Chicago’s first juvenile court, and more. By the 1960s, we focused our efforts on providing funding and support to help the many different groups doing the important work of bettering the lives of children in Chicago.

Learning Bridge Early Education Center
Photo provided by grantee partner Learning Bridge Early Education Center.

Today, Bright Promises provides multi-year grants and capacity building support to 25 organizations each year, supporting programs that benefit more than 10,000 children and youth, 2,750 parents and caregivers, and 800 service providers across metropolitan Chicago.

Bright Promises focuses on addressing the most pressing issues impacting Chicago children that are currently under-recognized and under-funded in Illinois; the issues other foundations are not funding yet, but should be. In the last decade alone, we have helped to create and expand programs focused on reducing childhood obesity, providing high-quality early childhood education to low-income children, helping children who have experienced trauma, promoting social-emotional learning, and more.

“We are proud of the legacy we have created over the last 150 years here in Chicago,” Iris Krieg, Bright Promises Executive Director, says. “We hope that by continuing to support these programs, we will create a brighter future for all children in our city.”

Enlace Chicago
Photo provided by grantee partner Enlace Chicago.

This October, Bright Promises Foundation will celebrate 150 years of service by honoring the people and organizations who go above and beyond to ensure that every child in Chicago reaches their full promise and potential. Bright Promises’ 150th Anniversary Awards celebration will honor philanthropic icon and lifelong advocate for children Judith S. Block, American Indian leader Dr. Dorene Wiese, and outstanding volunteers Peggy and Paul Bodine.

The 150th Anniversary Awards event is co-chaired by Nancy Snyder (Past President of the Junior League of Chicago and Founder of Bon Brise Design), Francia Harrington (Executive Leadership, Civic Engagement and Strategic Partnerships, Fifth Third Bank), Vern Broders (Director of Finance and Business Administration at Oral Health America), and Mark Murray (Vice President of Programs and Administration, Field Foundation of Illinois).

The event will be hosted beneath the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome in Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, and the evening will include a cocktail reception with the honorees and performances by Chicago youth leaders who will share their hopes and dreams for their communities through original skits, songs, and poems.

For more information and to reserve tickets, visit

Bright Promises Foundation's 150th Anniversary Awards

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