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The $4 Million Fund

By The Chicago Community Trust

The Chicago Community Trust, metropolitan Chicago's community foundation, announces today a grant of $500,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that pushes the total raised for The Unity Challenge to over $1.3 million. The Trust has matched all Unity Challenge donations 2-to-1, making available $4 million to aid those hit hardest by the recession.

Following its first round of Unity Challenge grants in January that provided immediate relief for food pantries and homeless shelters, today the Trust also announces its second round of grant recipients from this special initiative. These grants in the amount of $675,000 will support a regional response to the foreclosure crisis and increase the capacity to provide legal assistance to families and individuals who are bearing the brunt of the economic recession and have the fewest resources secure their financial well-being.

"In the best of times the invaluable role provided by legal aid organizations goes unnoticed, but its value is amplified in difficult times. Legal aid is an important part of our community's safety net. We are pleased to partner with organizations like The Chicago Bar Foundation to advocate for those that need legal assistance. Thousands of people across the region now need access to legal protection from foreclosure, eviction and domestic violence, or elder abuse," says Terry Mazany, president and chief executive officer of The Chicago Community Trust. "In this time of great need these grants will help thousands of people gain access to these critical services to stabilize their families and their lives."

The Trust organized The Unity Challenge to motivate additional donor contributions to increase the funds available to organizations providing critical support to the residents hit hardest by the economic crisis.

"We exceeded our goal thanks to the generosity of many individuals, families, foundations, and corporations," says Jamie Phillippe, vice president of development and donor services for The Chicago Community Trust. "With the leadership of the Trust's Executive Committee the Trust has responded quickly to the region's needs. We are heartened to see many philanthropists supporting The Unity Challenge."

Data trends tracked by the Trust's Metro Chicago Vital Signs monthly reports show increased unemployment, foreclosures, demands for food assistance and homeless prevention resources. The Trust worked closely with The Chicago Bar Foundation to track trends in legal aid reflecting the needs of distressed families and individuals who inevitably find themselves negotiating resolutions for their legal problems due to a variety of circumstances, including loss of income as the result of unemployment.

Support from The Unity Challenge will allow key legal aid agencies to respond more effectively by expanding their capacity to meet the increasing demand for legal assistance from households in Cook County affected by the economic crisis.

* Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS): A grant of $75,000 to add a full-time volunteer coordinator to recruit and support unemployed and under-employed attorneys in the Chicago area. These attorneys can be deployed to serve the unmet legal needs of low-income families in Cook County who have been disproportionately impacted by the recent economic crisis. By adding this position, the organization can serve 7,200 additional people - or 14% more clients - which it estimates at a cost of just over $10 per case. In addition, by partnering with members of the legal community, CARPLS will build stronger relationships with the law firms and individual attorneys participating in these volunteer projects, which can position CARPLS to significantly expand its service capacity.

* Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (LAF): A grant of $50,000 to support an expansion of its Bankruptcy Court Help Desk, Medical Debt Relief Project and Consumer Law Project. The Bankruptcy Court Help Desk is currently staffed by one part-time attorney; the Unity Challenge grant will enable LAF to increase this attorney's time and the hours of the Desk each day to help meet the increased demand for services.

* The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF): A grant of $75,000 to support court-based advice desks at the Circuit Court of Cook County, including:

1) The Chancery Division Advice Desk, operated by Chicago Legal Clinic, which assists low-income unrepresented or pro se litigants facing foreclosure on their mortgages and the loss of their homes.

2) The Collection Self-Help Desk which is operated by CARPLS and provides information, advice and referrals to people without lawyers whose bank accounts are frozen or wages garnished after the court entered judgments against them in debt collection cases.

3) The Expungement Help Desk through which attorneys with Cabrini Green Legal Aid provide assistance to individuals who are not able to find employment and/or housing because of their criminal records.

* Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing: A grant of $80,000 for its Tenants in Foreclosure Intervention Project. This grant will assist tenants whose apartment buildings are going through foreclosure proceedings or are at risk of it. The grant will strengthen a program through which 42 community-based organizations and over 2,400 individuals will receive training on how to deal with foreclosures in apartment buildings. The grant will allow 200 tenants to stay in their buildings, over 1,600 tenants to have adequate time and resources to relocate, and 18 buildings to access new property managers or receivers overseeing operations. Around 3,000 informational guides (including 1,000 in Spanish) will be distributed.

"The legal aid organizations supported by the CBF and the Trust are facing enormous challenges right now. As legal aid organizations face increasing demand for their services, there are fewer resources available to help them meet these growing legal needs," says Bob Glaves, executive director of The Chicago Bar Foundation. "The Trust's Unity Challenge grants could not come at a better time, and will help close this gap in services by enabling several key organizations to increase their capacity to provide critical legal assistance to the most vulnerable people in our community."


Posted on July 21, 2009

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