Two coalitions of West Side organizations — one on in Austin and the other in North Lawndale — are among the six finalists who are only one step away from getting a $10 million Chicago Prize grant. 

The grant was established by the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and her husband, Bryan Traubert, in order to “improve economic prosperity for low-income families in Chicago by investing in promising solutions,” according to the organization’s website. 

The Chicago Prize will provide funding for development that would “spur economic activity, strengthen civic infrastructure, and improve the safety, well-being, and economic mobility of residents” of the South and West side neighborhoods.

Instead of having community organizations apply separately, the foundation asked applicants to develop their proposals in teams of multiple community stakeholders. Each finalist will get $100,000 to support their ongoing work. The winning team, which will receive the $10 million prize, will be announced next spring. 

The Austin team is called The Aspire Initiative: Building a Stronger Cradle-to-Career Pipeline. It includes three well-known local Austin organizations: Austin Coming Together coalition, Westside Health Authority and By the Hand Club. The team also includes larger organizations, including United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, the large social service nonprofit; LISC Chicago, a community development support organization; IFF, a nonprofit lender; the Lamar Johnson Collaborative, an architecture and design organization; Purpose Built Communities, a community redevelopment organization; and Applegate Thorne-Thomsen, a law firm. 

The team is looking to build a new early learning, health and recreation facility to serve 200 families, investing in quality curricular options at Austin College and Career Academy. The team also wants to redevelop a vacant school into a business incubator and build 60 units of affordable housing on vacant and scattered city-owned lots. 

The North Lawndale team is called Now Is the Time: Advancing North Lawndale Together. The team includes a range of neighborhood community organizations and social service providers, including the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, New Covenant

CDC, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, the North Lawndale Employment Network and Sinai Community Institute and Sinai Health System. 

The team is looking to use the funds as an opportunity to implement major projects included in the 2018 North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan, which include the proposed 30,000-square-foot Ogden Commons Sinai Heath System ambulatory surgical center; a mixed-income housing and commercial development; affordable housing built on vacant lots; the restoration of the 48-unit Lazarus Apartments, and the redevelopment of the former Wintrust Bank branch building near Homan and Roosevelt into a cultural hub and community coffee shop, among other proposals. 

When the finalists were announced on Dec. 11, Darnell Shields, the executive director of ACT, expressed optimism about his team’s chances.

“We are blessed and highly favored in every way, so I know we will succeed,” he wrote on his Facebook page. 

In a statement released by NLCCC in the wake of the announcement, Richard Townsell, the executive director of the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, said that the grant would give a much-needed shot in the arm for a neighborhood crying out for development.

“Over 50 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family to North Lawndale to protest the living conditions that black families were living in,” he stated. “Many of those conditions persist today. Our plan gives us a unique opportunity to finish the work he started in North Lawndale.”

Brenda Palms Barber, the president of the North Lawndale Employment Network, said that the grant money would help bring empowerment to the community. 

“What we’re talking about is giving North Lawndale residents the ability to control their own destiny – what their community looks like and how they live together,” she stated. “Investment like this means dignity, respect and freedom. It means better housing, economic mobility and jobs that are pathways to economic resilience.” 


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...