In one of Chicago’s most economically challenged neighborhoods, residents and community groups have teamed up to change lives.
“As the westernmost community of the city, Austin is the gateway to Chicago for many,” says Darnell Shields of the nonprofit Austin Coming Together. “We want our neighborhood to live up to the greatness of our city.”
To address critical issues like economic stability, underperforming schools, and access to affordable health care in Austin, the nonprofit looked to United Way of Metropolitan Chicago for help.
Connecting partners and resources “to develop and implement solutions one neighborhood at a time.”
“Many nonprofits are working to tackle complex social issues with limited resources, but their impact is diluted when they don’t work together,” says Keith Lewis, director of Community Engagement at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. “We connect the right partners and resources to develop and implement solutions one neighborhood at a time.”
United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative teams up with communities like Austin — with strong civic organizations and a clear need — to establish shared goals, deliverables, timelines, and measurements that ensure accountability toward key outcomes: more high school graduates, more financially stable households and more families with access to high-quality preventative health care.
In Austin, the Neighborhood Network Initiative is focused on improving student success in third grade, a key indicator of educational advancement.
Led by Austin Coming Together, leaders from more than 60 Austin community organizations are taking a long-term, comprehensive approach to achieving that goal — understanding that preparing kids for success in school starts with access to quality early learning programs, economic opportunities for family members, and a safe neighborhood.
“By standing together as a community, we can solve real problems and have a lasting impact,” says Darnell, who grew up in Austin. “It’s incredible to see how far we’ve come already.”
Wells Fargo has donated $300,000 to United Way of Metropolitan Chicago’s Neighborhood Network Initiative in support of the work in Austin.
“We want to make a real difference, but we know that change takes time and a dedicated commitment from all stakeholders,” says Lisa Johnson, Wells Fargo Commercial Banking Midwest division manager. “We hope to have a stronger collective impact on this community and help build a model for other neighborhoods.” (That’s Lisa, right in the photo above, with the United Way’s Wendy Duboe and Darnell.)
Aside from financial support, Wells Fargo team members also volunteer — at Austin schools, health care providers, food banks, job readiness programs, and more. In fact, local team members have selected the neighborhood as the beneficiary of a majority of their philanthropic and community support efforts.
Lisa says, “We have a great business in Chicago and a group of team members who are deeply committed to this community. This is one way we can bring to life everything we value as a company.”
Note: A version of this story appears in the 2015 Wells Fargo Annual Report (PDF).