What can a community accomplish with $10 million? 

  The residents of Austin have more than a few ideas. 

  To bring them to life, Austin Coming Together (ACT), Westside Health Authority (WHA), and By the Hand Club for Kids have joined forces to compete for the prestigious Chicago Prize, a grant from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation. Austin’s proposal is one of six community-led projects selected as a finalist for the $10 million award. 

  As one of the largest grant competitions in the city, the Chicago Prize supports projects that will create long-lasting, positive change in a neighborhood. Additionally, it promotes strong collaboration between residents and community groups driving the proposed projects forward. 

  “Chicago’s South and West Sides are home to some of our city’s most effective and creative nonprofits, social service agencies and community development organizations, providing tangible solutions to challenges linked to decades of disinvestment in these communities,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. “The Chicago Prize finalists represent the type of community-led collaborative initiatives that have the power to bring transformative change and chart a new course of inclusive economic growth in our region.”

  As Bryan Traubert, co-founder and trustee of the Pritzker Traubert Foundation said, the Chicago Prize is a “call to dream big and plan thoughtfully.” 

  Austin more than answered that call with our proposal, called the ASPIRE Initiative: Building A Stronger Cradle-to-Career Pipeline in Austin. 

  Defined as “seeking ambitiously, especially for something great,” ‘aspire’ perfectly describes our plan. With this prize, we aim to build on the momentum of the Austin Quality-of-Life Plan (QLP), known as Austin Forward Together, to lift our neighborhood to new heights. 

  By mobilizing existing community assets and securing this new investment, the ASPIRE Initiative will grow education and economic opportunities for Austin residents of all ages. The plan includes building a state-of-the art early learning facility; a health and recreation center; supporting a neighborhood high school to enhance student experiences and improve enrollment; creating an  economic hub that connects low-income residents to careers, and 60 units of new affordable housing for purchasing. 

  “ASPIRE is the evolution of Austin Forward Together, in terms of informing the built environment. It is representative of what that looks like in real life, which has never happened before,” said Darnell Shields, Executive Director of ACT.

  ACT, Westside Health Authority and By The Hand Club for Kids are co-leading the proposal, leveraging support from several other partners, including LISC Chicago, United Way of Metro Chicago, IFF, the Lamar Johnson Collaborative, Purpose Built Communities, and Applegate Thorne-Thomsen.

  While each partner has a unique role, strong collaboration is needed to execute this plan.

  “Our organizations have been working together for some time now, creating a sense of momentum that ASPIRE is helping to sustain,” she added. “The Chicago Prize is affording us the opportunity to collaborate on an even deeper level than we ever have before.” 

  ACT will play the role of “Community Quarterback” by identifying and engaging partners and ensuring that the voices of residents remain heard. Furthermore, ACT will lead efforts to gather data, drawings, budgets, vendors and other information essential to create a detailed project plan for each of the proposal’s components. ACT has nearly a decade of experience in organizing Austin-based collaboratives that leverage community assets to attract needed resources. 

  WHA will function as the developer of both the housing strategy and the renovation of the Emmet Elementary School into a career development and vocational training center. 

  By the Hand Club will lead the development of the early learning center and health and recreation facility. Their after-school program has been serving Austin youth since 2007 and at other Chicagoland locations since 2001.

  The winner of the coveted Chicago Prize will be announced in May. 

  See more on the ASPIRE Initiative.