When Sara Guderyahn became the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation’s new executive director last November, she took a long look at the long-term goals of the hockey franchise’s philanthropic arm.
Now, just shy of a year later, the main goal she identified — increasing investments in the West Side neighborhoods around and beyond the United Center — has reached a milestone moment.
The Foundation announced a partnership late last month with A Better Chicago, the city’s only venture capital philanthropy fund, to provide at least $2 million in grants over the next three years to West Side community leaders.
The partnership, dubbed “One West Side,” unveiled its first five grant recipients Monday:
• The Bloc, run by Jamyle Cannon, mentors youth through boxing.
• The MAAFA Redemption Project, led by Marshall Hatch, helps “at-risk” young adults in West Garfield Park find housing and jobs.
• Austin Childcare Providers Network, headed by Ruth Kimble, works with pre-kindergarten and elementary schools.
• Cluster of Care Community Hub, a part of West Side United, provides health resources to West Side students.
• And Phil Jackson’s VIP Program at the Firehouse Community Arts Center works to reduce violent crime rates in young men.
Besides the grants, which are unrestricted, those five will receive other assistance from A Better Chicago, CEO Beth Swanson said, such as help with leadership structures, planning, branding and marketing.
One West Side resulted from many conversations within the Blackhawks and seven months of talks between Guderyahn and Swanson.
A Better Chicago tightened their geographic focus starting last year to focus on the South and West sides. When Guderyahn and Swanson first connected in February, shortly before the pandemic hit, the organizations proved a perfect match.
“It’s this idea that we both can bring financial leverage as co-investors, but we also bring these really unique strengths: our location and our platform matched with their unique model of philanthropy and support,” Guderyahn said.
A Better Chicago has over 2,000 different donors. But the Blackhawks, as an NHL team, have a platform “to bring not only the issues, but also the investments that we’ve made, to an entirely larger network of individuals in Chicago,” Swanson said.
For the Blackhawks, the new program is only the largest step forward in their enhanced investment in the West Side.
Guderyahn cited a recent cleanup day organized by the Blackhawks and Bulls around the Westhaven Apartments, near the United Center, as another example.
“There’s some really good work that we’ve done here on the West Side, but I think we could really take this to the next level,” she said. “[We can] do that through the relationships we build at the community level.”