Michelle Rashad grew up in Englewood – but it wasn’t a place she wanted to stay. When she was in high school, she lost a friend to gun violence.
“Trust me when I say I had a plan to go out and never look back,” Rashad said. But a local community organization invited her on a trip to Washington, DC to speak to politicians about her community’s issues. The trip – and the band – changed Rashad’s perspective.
That group was Imagine Englewood if, a non-profit organization that provides youth programs on healthy lifestyles, environmental awareness and positive communication skills.
On Tuesday, Imagine Englewood received $110,000 from cable and internet company Astound Broadband.
Imagine Englewood if he was originally promised $30,000 from Astound. When the check was presented, they were shocked to find that it was actually for $110,000.
“I cried,” admitted Rashad, who served as the group’s executive director for four years.
As a small nonprofit, Rashad said, it can be overwhelming. “I just took a deep breath because I got to see all the more I could do with the goals we have this year.”
The company initially interviewed several other groups to split the funds between them before choosing Imagine Englewood to receive the full amount.
“We decided to put all of our money into this one organization because of the issues in the Englewood area and the positive results Imagine Englewood is doing for residents here,” said Tom McKay, senior vice president and general manager. of Astound Broadband (Chicago). “It’s a deprived area with few resources and Imagine provides a bunch of resources for the neighborhood.”
McKay added that awarding the full $110,000 to Imagine Englewood would have “much more impact on the neighborhood” than dividing the money among the groups.
Unrestricted funds will help Imagine Englewood with new programs for the year.
Currently, the group has an after-school program, summer camp, girls’ mentorship program, and a “Growing Citizens” leadership program. A possible new program in Rashad’s mind is a mentorship for boys.
“We’ve had requests from parents who say, you have mentors for girls, where’s the program for boys?” Rashad said.
She has also received requests from teenagers in the programs who also want gender groups.
“I always want to do more with our young people,” Rashad said.
“There aren’t a lot of programs happening or could happen where you can engage more young people because we’re limited on space,” she added. “Now that we have the space, we want to do more.”
Astound will also continue to partner with Imagine Englewood for other activities, such as a program through Astound’s Human Resources department to provide CV and interview skills.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides.