Chicago Community Trusts Has Big Shoulders to Lean On

Chicago has been known as "The City of Big Shoulders" since Carl Sandburg’s 1914 poem, which commended the city for its hard-working, laborious attitude. Although the mission of Chicago's Big Shoulders Fund isn't related to the stockyards or railroads, hard work remains the focus. Thanks to Chicago Community Trust's annual $250,000 grants, the Big Shoulders Fund has been successful in educating the poorest and most disadvantaged inner-city areas of Chicago. (See Chicago Community Trust: Chicago Area Grants).

Formed in 1986, the Big Shoulders fund set out to sustain the inner-city Chicago Catholic school system. Catholic schools make up the largest private school systems in the United States, and ones in urban environments play a huge role in educating inner-city youth with families below the poverty line. Since its formation, the fund has risen over $187 million and awards about $12 in annual scholarships, special education programs, instructional equipment, and facility improvements. And thanks to the Chicago Community Trust (CCT) endowment, 100% of donations and funds raised are given directly to the schools served.

Chicago Community Trust also helps the Big Shoulders Fund implement project-based professional growth development programs for nearly 800 teachers each year.  CCT teams up with the Golden Apple Foundation and Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry to educate teachers during week-long intensive, hands-on instructional strategies practicums. Over 150 teachers have participated each year in these programs to help themselves build better lesson plans for their students.

If your nonprofit organization is looking to CCT for an education grant, your program had better feature initiatives to improve teaching in core curricular areas and strengthen teacher leadership. The focus of CCT's education grantmaking is on strengthening educator capacity in low-income Cook County schools. All grade levels, from kindergarten through college, are considered by CCT at this time, and they split the education category into two distinct funding opportunities based on grade level.

Funding Opportunity #1 is for the K-12 sector and requires grant seekers to demonstrate focus on a specific subject area, build teacher knowledge in that area, and include strong program evaluation components. Funding Opportunity #2 requires grant seekers to demonstrate collaboration between university-based centers, efforts to strengthen university coursework, and serve special needs students.