AUSTIN — Small businesses and nonprofits have a chance to get a financial boost to improve the economic vitality on the West Side thanks to a grant program being launched Monday by West Side United.
The program offers a pool of $500,000 in grants for nonprofits along with a separate grant pool of $225,000 for eligible small businesses. The application window opened Monday.
West Side United is a coalition of healthcare providers and educators as well as business and government leaders banding together to improve the health of West Side residents.
The group’s latest initiative will offer up to 30 awards of as much as $30,000 to businesses and $40,000 to nonprofits that align with their mission of improving the social conditions that result in health disparities between the West Side and the rest of the city.
The public health organization first offered a round of grants last year, but the program will be tweaked and greatly expanded this year. The funding pool is now many times bigger than last year’s $85,000 in combined grants between nonprofits and small businesses.
The expansion was made possible by the support of JP Morgan Chase Bank, which contributed to the program as part of its $500 million AdvancingCities initiative to boost inclusive growth in cities across the world. The grants are also financed by the coalition of West Side United hospitals and Northern Trust.
The grants are aimed at building a stronger, more resilient West Side by helping small businesses access the capital they need to increase revenue, and supporting nonprofits in projects that address the needs of the community in the targeted neighborhoods: North Lawndale, Little Village, Austin, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, the Lower West Side, West Town and Belmont Cragin.
The West Side suffers from a staggering life-expectancy gap: West Garfield Park residents have an average lifespan that is 16 years shorter than people living Downtown, according to census data.
West Side United approaches public health from a comprehensive perspective that seeks to cut the life expectancy gap in half by 2030 by improving four key issues: economic vitality, education, health care and neighborhood environments on the West Side. The grants would give a boost to businesses that support commerce and economic growth, and would target nonprofits that address any of the organization’s core issues as a pathway towards long-term health outcomes.
According to Rachael Wilson, the organization’s program manager for the grants, this approach helps build a healthier neighborhood by addressing the inequalities that lead to shorter lives.
“The medical solution of treating people with disease is not the only way to go about that,” Wilson said. “We have to actually look at the structural racism and structural inequality that has been put in place on the West Side. That’s things like redlining and disinvestment in schools that have really come out of white supremacy, and really, really hurt West Side communities.”
Funds will be allocated based on the potential impact the grants will have not only on increasing the capacity of businesses and organizations themselves, but also based on the potential impact they will have on addressing the community’s needs. West Side United assessed the needs of each area by looking to the neighborhood plans that had been developed in recent years like the North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan.
Wilson expects the grants to have a significant impact, noting that thriving businesses tend to attract more commerce and encourage new entrepreneurs to invest in the neighborhood. That domino effect can bring those neighborhoods more jobs, cultural assets, youth programs, and ultimately a healthier future.
“We know that if you live in a place that has job opportunities, education opportunities and a healthy neighborhood, you are just much more likely to be healthy and not have to go to the hospital. You’re less likely to develop chronic disease,” Wilson said.
The application period for the grants opens Monday. West Side United will be hosting seven information sessions for small businesses and three for nonprofits all across the West Side to answer questions and explain the program to prospective applicants. To register, see West Side United’s Eventbrite.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.