Developing educated, informed, and engaged citizens.

2019 Review / 2020 Preview

Dear Friends of the McCormick Foundation,

I am excited to share some reflections and highlights of the past year, as well as a look ahead as we start the new roaring 20s!

Our work with communities to help develop educated, informed, and engaged citizens continues. Through these efforts, we aim to strengthen our democracy, and to help ensure that all families and children have the opportunities they need to thrive — without regard to ZIP code, race or income.

Below are the stories of community members and non-profit organizations working to make life better throughout Chicagoland. Our partners inspire us, and we hope their work engages you as well.



David Hiller
President and CEO

Grantmaking Programs


The Communities Program continued to invest in programs that improve the education, health, employment, and economic opportunities for individuals living on Chicago’s south and west sides and suburban communities where racial and economic disparities are prevalent.

In 2019, Foundation partners Teamwork Englewood and Enlace made progress implementing their Quality of Life (QLP) plans:

  • With a focus on healthy eating, active living and access to health care, Teamwork’s Health and Wellness Taskforce and the University of Illinois at Chicago are helping residents get much needed access to primary and preventative health care. Additional investments are supporting urban agriculture as an innovative solution to increase access to healthy food, while revitalizing the economic and social health of a community.
  • Enlace’s support of the Little Village Education Collaborative is providing assistance to immigrant and undocumented high school students and adult education learners as they transition to college and the workforce. Grants to Central States SER and Erie Neighborhood House are supporting the city’s second Reconnection Hub, reengaging “opportunity youth” with education and career tracks and developing plans to expand reading programs for younger students who are at below grade levels.

Our Neighborhood Network partnership with the United Way entered its second year, welcoming a new $10M investment from BMO Harris, the bank’s largest U.S. philanthropic donation ever. The investment is focused in Austin, helping residents execute their community revitalization plan.

We joined with nonprofit lenders Accion and LISC with an investment in the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund providing capital to minority-owned small businesses in Chicago’s neighborhoods. The fund is expected to help boost commercial activity and create jobs on Chicago’s south and west sides.

The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) launched a new phase of its Reclaiming Southwest Chicago campaign to address the large number of vacant and abandoned homes in the Chicago Lawn area. The program renovates existing buildings into affordable housing and recruits and helps members of the community buy or rent the rehabbed property.

In 2020…

Like the Reconnection Hub in Roseland, the Little Village Hub provides a “one stop shop” to help young people who are out of school and out of work connect to the opportunities they need. Developed by Thrive Chicago, Phalanx Family Services, Central States SER, and other local partners, these Hubs bring all the community non-profits together to address the most pressing social issues facing these young people. Collectively, the two Hubs aim to help connect more than 1,000 youth to school or jobs in 2020.

Community Justice

2019 saw a third year of reduced shootings and homicides in Chicago, but the level of violence remains unacceptably high. We continued working with the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities to support neighborhood based anti-violence efforts. Heartland Alliance and Metropolitan Family Services led many of these efforts. Heartland’s transitional jobs and cognitive behavioral therapy programs are designed for those Chicagoans most at risk for violence. MFS’ coordination of city-wide street outreach efforts is helping break the cycle of violence in some of our most under-resourced communities.

We made further investments in criminal justice reform, with grants to Illinois Justice Project, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, and the Fund for Justice, who are creating off ramps out of the criminal justice system and expanding opportunities for formerly incarcerated people in order to reduce recidivism and make communities safer.

In 2020…

Building on the momentum of Governor Pritzker's priorities related to criminal justice, the Foundation is working with the Safer Foundation and Illinois Justice Project to create an improved system of re-entry for people leaving the Illinois Department of Corrections, setting formerly incarcerated individuals up for success and strengthening their communities.


The Foundation’s Democracy Program focuses on key elements of a democratic society — a free press that informs the public, civic learning and engagement, and good government.

On the Journalism front, grants to ProPublica Illinois and Chicago Public Media (WBEZ) supported their investigative reporting, yielding impactful stories such as how Chicago drove residents into bankruptcy through ticketing practices that disproportionately affected black neighborhoods and motorists who can least afford the fines and fees. City Bureau expanded its innovative model covering south side neighborhoods, opening its newsroom to the public and training residents to report on public meetings.

The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University is addressing the crisis of declining local news reporting with new research on how local news organizations can sustain themselves in the digital future.

On the civic eduation front, last summer Governor Pritzker signed legislation requiring all Illinois middle schools to provide a civics class. The first year of the requirement begins in fall 2020, and the Foundation will provide support for teacher professional development as it did with the high school course requirement adopted in 2016.

Several of the Foundation’s grantees advanced their efforts to help implement SB-100, legislation intended to reduce suspensions and expulsions in Illinois schools, with a focus on racial disparities in school discipline. Communities United is working to support teachers and administrators in implementing the law, and engaging legislators on the need for supportive services for students, particularly with mental and behavioral health needs.

In 2020…

With 2020 being the year of the Census and also an election year, effective participation in our democracy will be more important than ever. Our grantees will be active on all fronts, including reporting the news citizens need to know, working for a complete Census 2020 count for Illinois with targeted outreach to hard-to-count communities, and strengthening voter registration, including allowing 16 year-olds to pre-register to vote.


The Education Program invests to help ensure that Illinois children are ready for kindergarten and proficient in reading and math by third grade with special emphasis on supporting children most at risk of failing in school. The Foundation is concentrating on helping Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot think ambitiously about strengthening the early childhood system.

To add greater professionalism to the field of early childhood, the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies focused on increasing certification credentialing, now at 23% of all providers, up from 4% in just 3 years. The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s Early Learning Quality initiative saw overall scores measuring teacher effectiveness rise from sub-par to exceeding national Head Start averages from 2015 to 2018.

Five Illinois communities that implemented Erikson Institute’s Early Developmental Instrument have used the resulting neighborhood-level kindergarten readiness data to secure an additional $3.4 million in preschool and mental health supports, and to fuel community strategies to strengthen young children’s development.

Kohl Children’s Museum operated three “pop-up” children’s museums in Chicago’s northern suburbs — in Waukegan, Round Lake Beach and North Chicago, expanding the Museum’s reach in under-served communities. In a similar vein, Metropolitan Family Services worked with families and community leaders in North Lawndale, Aurora and Little Village to develop brain-building activities in everyday places around their communities as part of a Playful Learning initiative.

Illinois State University unveiled Teach, Lead, Grow, a free library of early childhood classroom videos, tools and resources to develop effective pre-K -to-third-grade teachers and leaders. Additionally, the Foundation supported the documentary No Small Matter, focusing on early childhood education through a combination of emotion, humor, brain science, and helpful graphics to showcase key issues in the field.

Since opening its Chicago bureau in 2018, Chalkbeat has provided steady, in-depth coverage of early education issues, inlcuding the Governor’s work to rebuild the state’s early ed system, that are well-read and received among thought leaders.

In 2020…

The McCormick Foundation Executive Fellows program at Erikson Institute will train leaders involved in the state’s justice system on the effects of trauma on young children. Support continues for City of Chicago early learning leaders, improving and integrating its data systems to catalyze program improvement. The Education Program will help fuel the expected launch of a Chicago Industry Workforce Partnership for Early Learning to address the need for more than 1,500 new high-quality early childhood teachers by 2023.


2019 saw progress toward making Illinois the best place for returning veterans and their families. Investments continue in the areas of economic opportunity (employment, higher education and entrepreneurship), behavioral health and wellness, and helping veterans navigate and find the services they need.

With Foundation support, Bunker Labs is enabling small business creation beyond the Chicago area to regions across Illinois. Since the Bunker's inception, participating companies have generated more than $117 million in revenue and created more than 1,000 jobs for military veterans and spouses. Chicago Lighthouse, National Able, and the Chicago Botanic Garden all continue providing employment opportunities and transition services to help veterans (and their families) secure long-term careers.

Headstrong is providing cost-free mental health treatment with experienced clinicians and individualized care apart from the VA, expanding its trauma treatment program into rural areas communities to ensure that all veterans in need can be served. Continued funding for Smart Policy Works provided policy analysis, training, and consultation to better address women veterans' health issues.

The Mission Continues expanded their reach into Chicago neighborhoods, deploying veteran volunteers alongside community leaders to improve educational resources and increase access to parks and green spaces. The Thresholds Veterans Program provided homeless outreach, housing services, supported employment, substance abuse treatment, and trauma-based therapies to nearly 300 veterans. The DePaul University Multifaith Veterans Initiative emerged as a model for engaging faith and community-based resources for veterans, establishing four community veteran hubs across 19 local communities.

Illinois Joining Forces focused on the development of regionally-based community hubs, identifying and training women veterans to serve as local ambassadors, and connecting service members, veterans, and their families to the programs. In a related effort, the USO of Illinois launched its Pathfinder program statewide, working with active duty servicemembers a year prior to separation to connect them to resources they will need as they return home.

In 2020…

While keeping a continued focus on Chicagoland, the Veterans Program will increase its support for organizations across Illinois providing services to veterans and their family members. Often veterans in rural areas have more difficulty accessing the supports they need as they transition to civilian life.

Cantigny Park

Colonel McCormick’s former estate in Wheaton just keeps getting better. Cantigny’s ongoing Project New Leaf delivered several enhancements for park guests in 2019, including a new visitor welcome and information building, Butterfly Hill overlook, expanded Hosta Garden, brick pathways, new benches, and outdoor lighting.

In 2019, Cantigny’s First Division Museum commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, welcoming nine veterans of World War II, one of whom served with the 1st Infantry Division in Normandy. The park staged its first-ever Mexican Folkloric Festival with great feedback from our guests. The colorful festival will expand to two days in 2020, June 20-21. Please plan to join us!

Cantigny Golf celebrated its 30th anniversary throughout 2019, and in July hosted the 89th Illinois State Amateur Championship.

In 2020…

This year, we’ll conclude Phase II of Project New Leaf with the opening of newly designed gardens and landscapes located east of the Visitors Center. Some features, including the Fountain Garden, Prairie View, and Rock Garden represent entirely new elements in the park.

Please visit to learn about upcoming events throughout the year, including concerts, lectures, garden and museum tours, and special events, including the 2020 National Cyclocross Championship in December.