Creating a culture of giving means more than the sharing of funds. To effect lasting, positive change, we must also take action and give of ourselves. That is how we will inform and inspire a legacy that passes from one generation to the next.
Whether the need calls for extra time, ideas, project materials or personal connections, we strive to fully support every effort we embrace to make a greater Chicago.
In early 2018, Skender Foundation announced its first endowment fund and the inaugural grant was a $150,000 donation to VOCEL. VOCEL is a nonprofit organization in Chicago dedicated to language-focused early childhood education in Chicago, open to children six weeks to five years old. The Skender Foundation Board of Directors chose VOCEL because they are thought leaders in early childhood education, and during the board’s sector research for the endowment fund, early childhood was selected as our sector of funding. VOCEL came up in 6 of the 7 sectors explored for the endowment. We concluded that if children receive the tools they need during the early years, they will be equipped to make good life decisions to be successful adults.
“We believe that Skender Foundation has a responsibility to invest in making communities stronger, and our new endowment fund allows us to provide long-term, meaningful grants that will make a considerable impact to organizations like VOCEL. Our investment in VOCEL and partnership with New Coast Foundation enhances the support of a nonprofit that has already impacted the lives of so many in Chicago,” said Cheryl Skender, Chair and President of the Skender Foundation.
VOCEL was founded to bring exemplary education opportunities to underserved communities by helping parents and their children, especially zero to three years old, thrive inside and outside the classroom. Founded by two former Teach For America educators, VOCEL delivers an innovative approach to early learning that’s rooted in language development, parent coaching, and an open, intentional teaching style. VOCEL currently facilitates two programs: Child Parent Academy and Early Learning Center. Both programs are designed to nurture curiosity and collaboration among young children and empower parents to be invested in their children’s development.
“We are thrilled and honored to be awarded this grant and look forward to the opportunity to expand our program with this significant investment,” said Kelly Lambrinatos, Co-Founder and Executive Director of VOCEL. “For nonprofit organizations like VOCEL, our growth is completely dependent on access to capital beyond the early start-up stage.”
Grantees receive unrestricted capital of $150,000 over the course of three years. This flexible funding model gives high-performing organizations the ability to invest in areas they feel are most critical, such as developing stronger, more responsive internal systems; evaluating outcomes; and increasing program efficiency to scale their models.
Skender’s annual employee volunteer day took on new importance this year as Framing Day—a day to volunteer locally and build housing to then be shipped in modules to where it is needed most. Through a partnership with Solid Rock Carpenters, the day benefited the Appalachia Service Project and took place on Saturday, October 13 at Skender’s new advanced manufacturing facility.
“We are very excited to be partnering with Solid Rock Carpenters and utilizing our volunteers’ talents in the building trades for an amazing cause,” explains Cheryl Skender, Chair and President of Skender Foundation. “Our mix of friends, family, Builders' Board members, and professionals will help Solid Rock Carpenters create a replicable volunteer framing program that any organization willing to roll up their sleeves and swing a hammer can execute in the future.”
During the Framing Day, volunteers came together under the guidance of Solid Rock Carpenters (SRC) to build wood wall panels for single-family homes. Those panels were then shipped to sites chosen by the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) to provide accessible, stable, and safe housing for low-income families. SRC continued to work with onsite volunteers to help assemble and finish the homes at their final destination. Skender and SRC are also collaborating on a manual for use during future Framing Days.
SRC was founded in 2005 to provide opportunities for people of all backgrounds and skill levels to build homes and bring hope to those impacted by Hurricane Katrina. SRC has since expanded to provide volunteer opportunities and build safe, accessible homes for underserved populations across the U.S.
“We were founded to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which opened our eyes to the urgent need for housing in low-income communities throughout the country—and the enthusiasm from volunteer groups to help. The Framing Day program will help us scale our volunteerism to include more organizations, perform the volunteer activities locally, and add more destinations where there is a need,” said Scott Engle, co-founder of Solid Rock Carpenters. “We are creating something that will connect volunteer enthusiasm with the communities that need it most. Thanks to modular construction, the work can be done anywhere—in a church or company parking lot, for example.”
On Saturday, October 13, 2018, nearly 100 volunteers gathered at Skender’s new manufacturing facility for the firm’s annual Volunteer Day. Volunteers built wood wall panels for two homes that will be delivered to families in need via Skender’s partners for the event, Appalachia Service Project and Solid Rock Carpenters.
The volunteers wrote messages of hope on the wall panels to bring comfort to the future inhabitants of the homes. Additionally, Skender employees leveraged their construction expertise to help Solid Rock Carpenters launch this framing day concept to bring to other organizations in the future.
The participation for this event was the highest yet for Skender’s Volunteer Day, and the volunteers left feeling inspired and excited.
Lurie Children’s Innovators is an exclusive program that channels the passions and energies of the next generation of Chicago philanthropists in support of initiatives with the potential to change children’s lives. The Innovators program brings together individuals who want to make change happen, and offers the opportunity to strategically leverage gifts for a major impact on high-priority needs at Lurie Children’s.
In the program’s inaugural year, Skender Foundation became its first and sole sponsor, donating more than $250,000 since 2017. Throughout the launch and first full year of the innovators program, Lurie Children’s exceeded its goal of recruiting 20 members, and have been overwhelmed by the positive responses in the program—with 32 innovators coming on board in 2018.
“We are grateful for Skender Foundation’s long-standing support of Lurie Children’s and their investment to sponsor the Innovators program through 2021,” said Maeve Curran of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Foundation. “Since the launch of the Innovators program, Skender Foundation has generously underwritten all of the program’s expenses, enabling 100% of Innovators’ investments to be directed to the medical center project selected by the group each year.”
Skender Foundation hosted its annual fundraiser, Summer Eclipse, on Thursday, July 19, 2018 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. A total of $380,000 was raised in one night by sponsors and more than 500 event attendees. Of that, $30,000 will be donated to The Bridge Teen Center while the balance will be dispersed to other charities dedicated to education and wellness throughout the year. In 2017, Summer Eclipse donations went to more than 100 different charity organizations.
Located in Orland Park since 2010, The Bridge Teen Center has served over 5,900 different teens and families from 128 Chicago Southland and Northwest Indiana communities. The organization's mission is to provide free programs for students in 7th to 12th grade during after school and unsupervised hours.
“Skender Foundation was built on providing opportunities, tools and resources to those in need to make better life choices. We chose to highlight The Bridge Teen Center based on our aligned missions to provide a safe place where students can find hope, purpose and direction in their lives,” Skender Foundation Associate Executive Director Belinda Moore said regarding the motivation behind Summer Eclipse.