Look North: A Wealthy Chicago Family Has Its Eyes on Suburban Poor

In the 2000s, the number of poor in America’s suburbs eclipsed the number of poor in cities. By 2011, almost 16.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line. These and other data were published in Confronting Suburban Poverty in Americaa book by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube, of the Brookings Institution.

These figures may come as a surprise to many Americans, who’ve long considered the move from the cities toward greener landscapes a sign of upward ascent. Not only did this core American belief become less certain, it further complicated the problem of poverty: the sidewalks and front yards of suburbia simply weren't built for a financially strapped population. As Kneebone explains to The Atlantic, it’s not just the rapidity with which poverty has come to many suburbs, but that many of these spaces are ill-equipped to deal with these demographic shifts.

Many of these communities lack the infrastructure, safety-nets, and resources to address the needs of a growing poor population, which can make it that much harder for poor residents to connect to the kinds of opportunities that can help them exist poverty over time.

Consider suburban Lake County, Illinois, due north of the Windy City, and the third most populous county in the state. A 2012 Report on Poverty found that about 86,000 Lake County residents are now in poverty or near it, a number that has risen steadily. Not only that, but children and young adults are the poorest Lake County residents.

The Gorter Family Foundation is one charity ringing the alarm bells about poverty in this region. The foundation does much of its giving in Lake County, and also promotes the slogan “Look North,” aiming to encourage other wealthy donors in the area to tackle the region's challenges, including homelessness, healthcare, and education.

The Gorter Family Foundation was established in 1976 by James P. Gorter and his wife Audrey. Born in 1929, James Gorter worked for decades at Goldman Sachs, making partner in the mid-1960s.

The foundation used to describe itself as being "reactive,” responding to "requests from charities in the Chicago area and elsewhere." In 2006, though, the foundation adopted a more proactive approach to its giving, and after conducting some of its own research redirected its efforts to needs in Lake County, Illinois, with an eye toward education and youth.

The foundation engages in several initiatives, including North Chicago Community Partners (NCCP). The Gorter Foundation provided seed capital for NCCP, which works in conjunction with some 50 organizations to provide "after school enrichment activities, lunchtime tutoring and mentoring programs, family engagement and education opportunities, Saturday programs," and more.

The Gorter Family Foundation has supported area nonprofits Advance Illinois, Bernie's Food Bank, College Bound Opportunities, Kohl Children's Museum, Most Blessed Trinity School, Partnership for College Completion, and Waukegan to College. Judging from this sample list, it appears that grantees run the gamut of human services, schools, and youth organizations.

Interested and eligible grantseekers should make sure their project aligns with the GFF mission and then submit an LOI. For a complete overview of this funder, read our profile and guide linked below.

Related: James and Audrey Gorter

Related: The Gorter Family Foundation: Chicago Guide