The Better Boys Foundation in neighboring North Lawndale has had a rough time in this struggling economy.
The nearly 50-year-old family service organization has seen a dip in funding, including a nearly $90,000 federal grant that was slashed by 20 percent, bringing the total down to roughly $70,000. Still, the foundation, like other community-based youth outreach organizations, are finding ways to keep helping kids amid dwindling funds.
And delivering services that extend beyond the classroom is what makes some programs survive – that’s why supporting organizations like the Better Boys Foundation is important, said Mary Visconti, the foundation’s director of agency advancement.
Unlike other programs that can offer more services with the help of, say, businesses, the foundation is trying to do more with less this year.
“For some people, it’s ‘I can’t go on as big of a vacation this year,’ or ‘I can’t give $500. I can only give $250 to this charity,'” Visconti said. “But for our kids and our families, it means can they keep their lights on? Can they pay their rent? Can they buy new shoes for school?”
The foundation offers after school programs, child and family welfare services and tutoring. Meanwhile, they’ve had to endure those stifling cuts in money. Its overall federal, state and private donor funds, for instance, have also dipped this year. But the West Side organization plans to unveil a new marketing strategy this month in hopes of increasing donations.
And Visconti hopes the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t overlook her organization when mapping out funds for anti-violence programs in the city. After Fenger High School student Derrion Albert was killed last fall, federal officials proposed giving nearly $25 million to violence prevention programs.
“There’s a lot of talk about pumping more money into youth. I haven’t seen that money,” she said. “Where is it? Give it to us.”
Ninety-six percent of students who receive college scholarships from the foundation graduate from college within five years of completing high school, Visconti said. She’s in talks with experts at the Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University Chicago to come up with a method to track their students’ academic progress.
Sixteen-year-old Gabrielle Ivy said she’s seen her grades – and home life – improve since coming to the foundation three years ago. Before coming there, Ivy said she had a tumultuous relationship with her mother. Now they can work out their problems with the help of counseling there. And she gets B’s at Little Village Lawndale High School instead of C’s, as well as bad behavior reports.
“They push us forward instead of holding us back,” Ivy said. “They help us with our problems here. They care. They ask us how our day is going.”
Visconti added that when she sees improvement in students like Ivy, her job is worth every bit of its hurdles.
“For us, it’s a motivator to work harder to do what we’re doing. We have to feel motivated and not feel sorry. Our kids are not basket cases or charity cases,” she said. “They’re kids with a lot of potential, and that’s how we try to approach it – being realistic about the challenges, but always staying positive and staying focused on what can be done instead of what can’t.”