The Community Programs Accelerator at the University of Chicago has selected four South Side nonprofits to participate in the first round of its incubation program, which aims to strengthen organizations near the University’s campus. Due to high demand, the University also expanded the Accelerator initiative to assist seven additional organizations with specific projects.
The inaugural group of Accelerator organizations are CoderSpace, which teaches South Side youth how to write website code; the Dovetail Project, which teaches parenting, life and job skills to young African American fathers; Polished Pebbles, a mentoring program for teen girls; and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which spotlights South Side musicians through its annual festival of performances.
CoderSpace is a project of Demond Drummer, an MA student at the Divinity School. Drummer is also a founding member of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.) and a long-time member of Chicago's open government movement. He was previously an Organizing Fellow with the New Organizing Institute and a field organizer for Barack Obama's primary campaign in South Carolina. In 2013 he spearheaded the crowdfunding and launch of Englewood Codes, which teaches local teens to code; CoderSpace grew out of that project. In addition, he facilitates digital leadership trainings with block club members, parent leaders and business owners in Chicago's Englewood community.
Drummer’s five-year plan for CoderSpace is to develop deep relationships with Chicago Public Schools, other coding programs, college-level computer science departments, and technology companies. The goal is to build a broad base of tech talent throughout the city.
“These four nonprofits are spearheading promising programs that are making a difference in the communities around our campus,” said Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement. “The Community Programs Accelerator will provide access to a comprehensive set of resources, including UChicago students and campus and professional partners, that will help strengthen their organizations and expand their impact for the long-term.”
UChicago launched the Community Programs Accelerator in May 2014 with plans to provide support to three or four organizations at a time to help them become self-sustaining. After more than 50 area nonprofits applied to the Accelerator, the Office of Civic Engagement, which is leading the effort, decided to add an Associates level to the program that will support a select group of additional organizations with project-specific needs.
“The high level of interest in the Accelerator underscored the need community-based organizations have for expanded capacity and resources,” said Shaz Rasul, Director of Community Programs. “The Associates program helps meet that need while also providing valuable field experience for UChicago students interested in community work.”
The Community Programs Accelerator is one of several ways the University and its Office of Civic Engagement work with and engage nonprofit organizations and residents on critical quality of life issues. The Accelerator will begin accepting applicants for the 2015-2016 program year in summer 2015.