Giving back in our backyard

One of the (many) perks of coming to work everyday at Jack Chicago is the location. For those who have not had the pleasure of coming to visit us, Jack is located in the John Hancock building; a focal point of what is commonly known as “The Magnificent Mile.” And it is indeed magnificent. If you look up you will find big businesses, high-end designer shops and 5-star restaurants; all within a few steps of the beautiful, expansive lakefront and lucky for us…our offices. But what I want to talk about today is what happens if you take the time to look down. If you do, it is impossible to miss another industry hard at work on the Magnificent Mile – the panhandlers.

Being in Chicago’s most bustling tourist destination you will find that on almost every corner you can find someone asking for something. Money, food, a CTA ticket…anything really. While it is sad to admit, for those of us who work in the area, this is just another thing we are used to seeing. Whether you politely smile, drop some change, or walk right by…you kind of become numb to it. It just feels…normal.

The truth is that Chicago, like many other major cities, has a homelessness problem that is not properly represented by the panhandlers we see coming to work everyday. It runs way deeper. Well over 130,000 Chicagoans were experiencing homelessness in 2013-2014. I say experiencing homelessness, because for those that go through it, it is an experience. And with the problem sitting on the doorstep of an agency that specializes in experiences…it was a no-brainer to get involved when presented with an opportunity to work with the Lincoln Park Community Shelter (LPCS).

Lincoln Park sits just two miles north of the Jack offices. An affluent residential neighborhood with idyllic tree lined streets, Chicago’s largest private university, plentiful parks and 5-star restaurants (Chicago is good at those!). It is quite frankly, the last place you would expect an organization on the cutting edge of the homeless problem to reside.

LPCS is not a place where panhandlers targeting tourists seek warmth before they head out for another day on the streets. It’s unique. Those that stay there don’t want a quick fix, they want OFF the streets. It houses 35 of Chicago’s homeless adults (guests). Every one of them is working hard to overcome his or her personal situations. They have a case manager, are provided the tools to re-acclimate and to find work, and most importantly are given a safe place to come home to. It is an extraordinary organization. Those who find themselves at LPCS are going through a truly transformative experience.

So what’s the issue then?

Homeless shelters have a perception problem. To succeed, LPCS requires Chicagoans to see it and understand it as the special place that it is.

That’s where we can help.

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We just finished our first project with LPCS; their annual spring fundraiser, Metamorphosis. It was the first of many steps it will take to change people’s perception of what a homeless shelter is. We made sure they were telling the right story to their donors, that they were presenting themselves in a cohesive and well-designed way, and produced a short film to share the powerful experiences of the guests, employees and volunteers. It was our first involvement with the shelter, and while those who did the work know it was a minor contribution in comparison to our capabilities, the response was overwhelming.

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It reminded us of why at Jack we take on pro-bono clients to begin with. How effective we are. How we can really influence change with what we do everyday. And what makes this even more special is putting our philanthropic focus on something that is right here in our backyard.

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In a few weeks we will sit down with LPCS to talk about a long-term plan of action to change the way people view the homeless experience and what LPCS has to offer. In the coming months we’ll be working to combine their drive to effect homelessness in Chicago with our drive to do something extraordinary. Stay tuned.