Mitchell: Mayor’s mentoring initiative skips smaller nonprofits

SHARE Mitchell: Mayor’s mentoring initiative skips smaller nonprofits
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Last week, a lot of small, struggling nonprofits, including Lost Boyz Inc., were disappointed when they were passed over by the city to participate in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s mentoring initiative. | Photo from Lost Boyz Inc. website

Follow @MaryMitchellCSTChurch folk often say: “When one door closes, another opens.”

But that’s not a biblical quote.

That advice was uttered by Alexander Graham Bell over 100 years ago. His words are still relevant today.

Last week, a lot of small, struggling nonprofits were disappointed when they were passed over by the city to participate in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s much bally-hooed mentoring initiative.

I’ve been a supporter of one of those nonprofits, Lost Boyz Inc., for several years.

The group’s founder, LaVonte Stewart, works a full-time job, but still managed to organize six baseball teams that play in the Rosemoor Little League, as well as a girl’s softball team, and a mentoring program.

OPINION

Follow @MaryMitchellCSTA couple of years ago, I went to an awards ceremony for the baseball team, at which the league’s president, Ralph Peterson, handed out trophies to every child who participated.

Like most small nonprofits, this organization struggles. In order to save on costs, Peterson and his wife had stayed up all night putting the trophies together by hand.

In 2015, a lot of Chicago Sun-Times readers pitched in and helped the nonprofit acquire a van. Some readers also stepped up to help transport kids to games.

Stewart, and the founders of other small nonprofits, had great expectations that some of the funding for the mayor’s mentoring initiative would trickle down to them.

But last week many of them were notified that their grant applications would not move to the second phase.

“I am just so fed up with the city now, I don’t know what to do,” Stewart told me in an email rant.

“This has been a 9-year sacrificial labor of love for me personally and those involved with us (coaches, mentors, tutors). The degree to which people in Lost Boyz have sacrificed time at work and home (which means less money for my kids and wife), put their own safety in jeopardy, and went out of their way to serve others has always amazed me,” he said.

Officials with the city’s Department of Family and Support Services told Stewart the nonprofit didn’t get through the pre-screening process because the grant requires the organization to have full-time staff members.

“We had six part-time staff that is now up to eight part-time that operate as if they are full time because people work well beyond the hours that they clock,” Stewart told me.

“It’s the same thing over and over again with this mayor and this administration. They have great initiatives and community groups are excited. Then they do what they always do, give it to the larger organizations,” he said.

“The initiative doesn’t seem to be intended to help the smaller organizations with the real boots on the ground,” Stewart added.

Lisa Morrison Butler, commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services, was adamant that isn’t the case.

“In the screening process, we had organizations from all around the city that stepped up and said: ‘I would like to participate,’ that had full-time staff, a track record of doing great mentoring, the ability to do the data reporting, and the ability to partner with us around the monitoring,” she said in a telephone interview.

“There are a number of mentoring initiatives that do wonderful work that don’t have full-time staff. We’ve seen organizations that have revenue below $250,000 struggle that might not yet be ready for government contracts,” Morrison Butler said.

The city received and evaluated over 104 applications. Seventy-four agencies were asked to submit full proposals.

Lost Boyz Inc. may have lost out on the city’s initiative, but it has emerged as one of 25 finalists from across the country to compete for a share of $100,000 as part of “The Atlantic” Renewal Awards.

The nonprofit is a finalist in the category of “Self-Starter” described as “underdog organizations founded without substantial support from large funders.”

The rest of Bell’s famous quote says: “[B]ut we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

I encourage small nonprofits to keep looking for that open door.

Supporters of Lost Boyz Inc. can go to: The Atlantic.com/Renewal-Award to vote. Online voting is open through Feb. 17.

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