This was a year of doing our part to help grantees and members of our community get through the pandemic. The Foundation awarded $11.8 million in grants, including over $8 million as a response to COVID-19.

Reflections On 2020

Letter from the CEO: Shelley Davis

It’s hard to imagine a more memorable year in recent history than 2020. The world as we knew it came to a halt in the spring and will in many ways never be the same. We lost family, elders, and community members to an unforgiving virus that is hardest on the most vulnerable, and we continue to fight its spread. We watched our children struggle as quarantines and lockdowns isolated them from their friends, teachers, teams, and school activities. We saw vandalism and looting damage our neighborhoods. We saw local businesses close permanently. We witnessed injustice at the hands of those we trusted to protect us. We saw the rise of an insurgency that would result in a violent attempt to overturn our national election. And with anger rising on all sides, we have been repeatedly reminded of the chilling gap between the haves and have-nots in our society.

As we all experienced grief, anger, anxiety, and sadness this year, I found myself challenged to weigh the pros and cons of the restrictions imposed upon us. I grappled with how to explain to my children the city’s rationale of closing bridges to the North Side that connected our family to resources we rely upon. My desire to participate in peaceful protest like a good citizen had to be reconciled with my desire to socially distance like a good citizen. I found it increasingly difficult to watch others struggle as that gap widened even further between those who could shelter in place or work from home comfortably and those who were forced to work in unsafe conditions or even lose their jobs.

And yet, I have to say that this year was as much a time for gratitude as it was for struggle. I am thankful that my family had the resources to work and study from home and help my mother get her groceries and medicine. My children adjusted to their virtual classrooms. My husband adjusted to virtual teaching, writing, and research. And in 2020, I was given a remarkable opportunity to make a difference by joining the Foundation.

I am grateful for the Coleman board, staff, and grantees whose warm welcomes were not diminished by pandemic restrictions. I am proud to have joined an organization that dug deep when our community needed us.

This final installation of our Impact Report series is our first annual report to the community. In the spirit of transparency, we are sharing our 2020 grants list and, more importantly, sharing the story of a community responding to a global pandemic. In this narrative, you will hear from our former CEO Mike Hennessy, our program officers, and our grantees. Together we reflect on the unique opportunities that emerged from this crisis: the collaborations of peers and partners, the nimbleness and responsiveness of staff; the flexibility and creativity of organizations.

In my short tenure as CEO, I have heard a repeated refrain from many of our grantees. They tell me the story of the day they picked up the phone to find a Coleman Foundation program officer’s voice on the other end asking about the impact of the pandemic on their organization and wondering how we could help. We listened and responded with general operating grants, with unrestricted funds, with emergency matching grants – we used all the tools at our disposal to help our grantees keep their doors open and meet their missions. It’s a good story we can all be proud of.

If the first quarter of 2021 is any indication, I believe we have even better stories and brighter days ahead!



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2020 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Services


During the holiday season, Laura, a resident at a group home operated by Search, Inc., received a visit from her family. During the holiday season, most residential group homes across Illinois were closed for visitation, and this moment was special for Laura. Photo credit: Search, Inc.

Responding to the COVID-19 crisis became an urgent priority for The Coleman Foundation when the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Division of Developmental Disabilities announced that all community day services programs operated by nonprofit organizations should close as of March 17,2020. As a funder of the affected organizations, we immediately began checking in with our grantees to ascertain the impact of the shutdown on them and the people they serve. This informal assessment by Senior Program Officers Rosa Berardi and Clark McCain compelled the Foundation to award more than $1 million in subsequent grants to fund organizational responses to the pandemic.

Organizations with funding coming mostly from IDHS reported struggling with increased expenses to deliver care safely at the same time they experienced dire risks to their revenue streams. Group homes they managed became quarantine sites where residents remained for weeks in the absence of programs they might otherwise attend, even when infected with COVID-19.

Private fundraising represents a critical element of the agency business model and many grantees reported the cancellation of spring galas and other fundraisers, which directly threatened the viability of their organizations. Funding from IDHS typically represents between 70 and 90% of revenues for providers and this funding does not cover the costs of services provided. Nineteen grantees experienced a loss in net income of $5.5 million from canceled private fundraising events.

“With the suspension of programs and trainings at our facilities due to COVID-19, and the pandemic necessitating the move of our largest fundraiser to a virtual effort,” noted Bobbi Frazes Goldman, Director of Development at Have Dreams, “the Foundation’s extraordinary gift has been vital to maintaining operations. You made it possible for us …to mitigate the social isolation that is inherent in autism, and to meet the needs of our participants who are especially vulnerable during this extended period of social distancing.”

Organizations struggled to meet the escalating costs of delivering services during a pandemic at the same time they were losing fundraising revenue. Finding adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for residential home staff was challenge enough, let alone paying for such unexpected necessities.

McCain contacted The Douglas Center, a grantee which operates a sewing department as part of vocational program, and suggested that they begin to produce face masks. Rifath Khan, Executive Director of The Douglas Center, remarked, “We produced a total of 15,500 masks to date. I must say your idea really helped us tremendously in keeping staff working, generating revenue for the program and helping the community by providing face masks.”


Ashley, a team member at Search, Inc. since November 2016, was one of many direct support professionals who volunteered to move in with residents as an effort to keep residents safe by limiting the number of staff members to whom they would be exposed at the start of the pandemic. She lived in a residential home for 6-weeks. Photo credit: Search, Inc.

Personal protective equipment became a requirement in all disabilities programs, including this Special Olympics activity led by Orchard Village. Photo credit: Orchard Village

As a direct response to the pandemic, the Foundation made 22 general operations awards totaling $930,000 to residential services providers. These awards enabled organizations to respond to the needs of the individuals they serve despite the realities of lost fundraising revenue and higher PPE costs.

2020 Entrepreneurship

The front door of Greater Southwest Development Corporation, damaged in the civil unrest of May 31, 2020. GSDC focuses on attracting newly opened or new-to-the area businesses, as well as retaining and expanding existing commercial or manufacturing businesses on Chicago’s southwest side. Photo credit: GSDC

The Coleman Foundation dedicated $2.7 million in 2020 for neighborhood entrepreneurship programs, pushing its total of awards granted over the past four years for the Chicago entrepreneurial ecosystem to more than $6 million.

Chicago business owners on the South and West Sides of Chicago were dramatically affected by the “triple threat” of the pandemic, the economic downturn, and civil unrest. In light of these developments, entrepreneurs had heightened needs for guidance on how to pivot their businesses and also for support in obtaining grant and loan capital made available.

Following the looting in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in June, McCain visited several grantees and spoke with business owners. Greater Southwest Development Corporation, which had its own offices damaged in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, took him on a tour of the 63rd Street business district. “A moment that captures the challenges,” McCain notes, “was when we met with a local jeweler whose store was badly looted. We were standing in the offices of Greater Southwest, just beyond their own broken-out window and this entrepreneur was struggling, pondering where his business could go from there.”

The Foundation awarded general operating grants to business service organizations (BSOs) in the wake of these concurrent obstacles. We also supported collaborations between universities and BSOs which enabled college students to assist small business owners during the summer.

Antonio Archilla, a 3rd year engineering student at IIT noted that, “it was really great to partner with a business and develop a customized strategy for their specific needs. I felt I learned a lot from this internship about how to conduct market research and how to revamp marketing strategies for a small business. My many thanks to the Chicago Urban League and the benefactors for this program.” Daphne Williams, owner of Smarty Pants Early Learning Center said, “The interns I had were bright, creative and full of ideas and energy. I was working on developing an e-learning platform for my center, and their technical knowledge was a valuable asset. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have worked with them.”

The Foundation renewed support for the Fund for Equitable Business Growth (FEBG) which enables collaborations among BSOs across the region.  A perspective shared from Business Services Collective highlights the impact this effort is having:

“In late 2018, SOUL invited us to their Construction Business Academy, where we interviewed 30 entrepreneurs and discovered the high demand for estimation services. Throughout 2019, we piloted our service and spoke with 100 more entrepreneurs, most of them met through events we attended in partnership with SOUL and Elevate. Being able to build on the trusted relationships SOUL and Elevate have cultivated with their networks of construction entrepreneurs has allowed BSC to launch our service in 2020 at full internal capacity and add clients as quickly as we are able to serve them.”

Shifting its attention to Chicago’s multicultural far North Side, the Foundation renewed support for the Rogers Park Business Alliance GROW program. “We were honored by The Coleman Foundation in 2020 when they determined that our GROW entrepreneurial training program was worth a substantial investment to provide the curriculum in Spanish,” stated Sandi Price, Executive Director of RPBA. “We were able to hire a Spanish-speaking business educator, rent space on Clark Street, and start reaching out to businesses and entrepreneurs — on Clark Street, where most of our Spanish-speaking businesses are located.”

In 2020, Rogers Park Business Alliance presented The Coleman Foundation with its Friend of Rogers Park award given to a person of prominence who has made a significant contribution to improving the quality of life in Rogers Park. Photo credit: The Coleman Foundation

The Foundation ended the year becoming a charter donor to We Rise Together, a multi-funder, regional initiative led by the Chicago Community Trust which consists of three complementary and interconnected efforts: 1) A philanthropic fund for making catalytic grants and investments; 2) Galvanizing private-sector actors to adopt equitable business practices; and 3) Identifying public policy and systems changes to achieve and sustain results that advance equity in our region. Foundation president & CEO Shelley A. Davis was named to the Steering Committee directing this initiative and we anticipate it to grow support for neighborhood entrepreneurship endeavors.

2020 Health and Rehabilitation

Little Tony’s Outdoor Pediatric Wellness Clinic at Saint Anthony Hospital open during COVID to provide access to immunizations and general care prior to the start of the school year to children in the community.

The Coleman Foundation dedicated $1.8 million towards Health and Rehabilitation programs during 2020.

One thing we’ve learned from funding cancer programs for decades, is that cancer care requires treating the whole patient, not just their cancer. In addition to treatment, patients need holistic, supportive and social care to heal and thrive. To this end, years ago, the Foundation prioritized supportive oncology and funded a collaborative of Chicago cancer centers to provide more comprehensive care. As Eileen Knightly, OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center, says, “Four years ago, we wouldn’t have shared a piece of paper. Today we’re working together, across Chicago cancer treatment sites, improving supportive care and access to resources for all our patients.”

We’ve also learned from current research that medical caregivers experience burnout, which results in medical errors, decreased efficiency, loss of productivity and job turnover—all of which effects patient care.

As the profound and unprecedented implications of COVID-19 became clearer, Coleman’s staff reached out to partner hospitals to learn more about the impact on cancer patients and their caregivers, the enormous strain on resources, and how the pandemic highlighted health disparities and inequities for people of color in the Chicagoland area. In response, a series of awards were made, including Sinai Health System for the hospital’s response efforts to care for patients with COVID-19; and the University of Chicago Medical Center and La Rabida Children’s Hospital to support the South Side Pediatric Asthma Center (SSPAC), which trains community health workers in assisting pediatric asthma patients and their families. “Early in the COVID pandemic, SSPAC developed a virtual training program for community health workers. During this period, community health workers began working virtually with 108 new patients and provided families with food and cleaning supplies after the civil unrest,” noted Brenda Battle, at the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences Division.

The Foundation made general operating awards enabling organizations to adjust programming from in-person to virtual delivery and address social determinants of health, such as food insecurity. Every year, 1 in 5 cancer deaths are a direct consequence of malnutrition and nearly 80% of cancer patients experience some form of malnutrition. Courtney White, Founder of Culinary Care, describes her organization as being on a to bring compassion and nourishment to everyone diagnosed with cancer. “It’s a complex problem,” White says, “but we believe any solution at all must start with compassion and end with food. For us it is really about taking something off their plate, by putting something on it.”

Supportive Oncology Team at Sinai Hospital screens patients and addresses social, spiritual, nutritional, or medical patient concerns. Photo taken prior to March 2020!
Volunteers from LaRabida Hospital and True to Life Foundation load diapers onto a truck to distribute to community members July 14, 2021. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

While healthcare providers wrestled with the various challenges caused by COVID, the Foundation responded with increased funding to support immediate needs of individuals and communities. As healthcare providers realized that COVID would have long-term implications, we responded with grant awards to address patient recovery efforts after lengthy hospitalizations. These awards included the launch of two recovery units by Chicago area providers which continue to operate and care for COVID patients.

The Foundation ended 2020 grantmaking with 18 grants to single-focused cancer support organizations, including nonprofits that provide: housing or food for patients during cancer treatment; peer-to-peer counseling support; breast health testing for uninsured or underinsured women; financial assistance to cancer survivors and caregivers; gift packages for children who might be experiencing their last Christmas; connections between artists and cancer patients in a therapeutic way; camps for children whose parents have or had a cancer diagnosis; and other beneficial services.

2020 Matching Grants

Civil unrest during the summer of 2020 resulted in damage to businesses owned by local entrepreneurs of color in many low- and moderate-income communities such as this one in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. Photo credit: Greater Southwest Development Corporation

In January, the Foundation formalized 69 awards totaling $712,125 to organizations that participated in its 2019 #ILGIVE Matching Grants Program. The Foundation rapidly levered this model to develop and offer an expanded matching grants program in the spring in response to the loss of fundraising events by many organizations. Resulting from this effort, the Foundation awarded 79 grants totaling $1,866,102, making this effort the Foundation’s largest in its eight years run of matching grants offerings.

2020 Board Directed Grants

Foundation board members bring various perspectives and interests to grantmaking. In 2020, Coleman board members explore areas of interests while also responding to immediate needs highlighted by the COVID pandemic. The total grants awarded in this category was $525,000.

2020 Hennessy Legacy Grants

In March 2020, Michael W. Hennessy, who served as the Foundation’s President & CEO since 1995, announced he would retire at the end of the year. In recognition of Mike’s long tenure and in honor of his leadership and service to the Chicago community, the Foundation awarded Hennessy Legacy Grants to grantees personally selected by Mike, including some the Foundation has supported during the entire duration of his leadership of the Foundation.

2020 Grant Making


Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities
Health & Rehabilitation


Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities
Health & Rehabilitation

Grantee List

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    20 N. Wacker Dr. Suite 3410
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