From the beginning, West Side United was meant to do more than address healthcare disparities. The hospitals that founded it understood that in order to help West Siders get healthier, they must also address economic, social, educational and public safety issues. That is why, for the second year in a row, they are giving out grants to West Side businesses and nonprofits.
And this year, they are offering more money and split what used to be a single grant for both businesses and nonprofits into two separate grants, so that those entities wouldn't be competing for the same pool of money.
Although the amount of money the grantees can get varies, West Side United is giving $500,000 to around 20 to 30 new and existing businesses, and $225,000 to nonprofits. The grant applications went up on the organization's website on Sept. 9, and the deadline is Oct. 31. West Side United is expected to announce the grant recipients on Dec. 15.
West Side United was launched in 2018 by six hospitals and health systems, most of which have hospitals on the West Side. They include AMITA Health, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, Rush University Medical Center, Sinai Health System and the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. West Side United also collaborated with a number of community organizations, social service agencies, healthcare providers and educational institutions.
Rachael Wilson, one of the organization's program managers, said that engaging with local businesses and nonprofits was always part of West Side United's DNA.
"We understand that we can't just treat sick people, we have to treat the conditions," she said. "We see investing in local businesses and investing in local nonprofits as a way to strengthen communities to address historic and existing inequality."
Wilson said that the businesses can request anywhere between $1,000 and $30,000. For entrepreneurs looking to get their businesses off the ground, the cap is at $15,000.
According to information on West Side United's website, businesses have to be based in West Side community areas, including Austin, Belmont Cragin, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Pilsen, the Near West Side, North Lawndale, Little Village, West Garfield Park and West Town. The organization will consider the applicants' 2018 profit and revenue, how important it is to the surrounding community and what the applicants intend to do with the grants.
During the 2018 City of Chicago budget planning discussions, Ald. Michael Scott (24th) noted that many entrepreneurs received the city's Small Business Improvement Fund (SBIF) grants only to see their businesses fail. The alderman argued that the city should include business literacy training into the program to help avoid that.
Wilson said that West Side United works with community partners to offer development and technical support. She also noted that West Side United is holding informational sessions for grant applicants.
Nonprofits can request up to $40,000, but unlike business applicants, they don't necessarily have to be located on the West Side. They do, however, have to serve at least one neighborhood on the list. The major factors West Side United will consider include an organization's financial status, track record, the kind of programs applicants want to fund and how those programs are aligned with West Side United's goals.
JP Morgan Chase and Northern Trust provided some of the funding for the West Side United grants, with some of the money also coming from West Side United itself. Accion Chicago, which is based in East Garfield Park, is serving as a fiscal agent for the grants.
Wilson said that last year her organization gave $85,000 in grants to seven businesses. West Side United is optimistic that they would be able to have more impact this time around, she explained.
"I think it's really exciting to be part of this work, because it's taking a step toward addressing structural racism and social inequality by investing in communities that have been historically facing disinvestment." Wilson said.
For more information about the grant and the schedule of informational sessions, visit https://westsideunited.org.
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