There is life nestled at the corner of St. Louis and Armitage Avenues. Outside, children play outside and have some colorful art to view; a large mural lines one of the St. Louis walls and a mini-mart and wireless store sits across the street. Inside, the corner is home to Center for Changing Lives (1955 N. St. Louis Ave.). The nonprofit coalition works with low-income people to offer economic coaching, job training, resource stabilization and much more. Its mission is to “partner with those held back by lack of resource and economic opportunity in order to uncover possibilities, overcome barriers, and realize their potential.”
It’s a place where people go to get a fresh start, learn something new, make connections and improve their lives—transformations of all kinds. Moxxi Doherty is experiencing this positive change right now. An Edgewater resident, they recently graduated from the A+ program CCL offers in IT job training. The training test prep program prepares you for the IT certification, which Doherty is halfway to completing. They worked in libraries for most of their career but once they got laid off, it was difficult to find another job. But with help from the test prep program and one-on-one coaching, Doherty found a parttime job for the nonprofit BallotReady and plans to further their career in the IT field.
“As soon as I pass the second half of the test, we are going to start hard looking at some job opportunities in the IT realm,” they said. And thanks to connections from their counselor, finding that next job will be easier and they already have a staffing company scouting them.
Doherty said the program may sound daunting to people who aren’t in the lowest income bracket but still need help or are interested in STEM fields because usually, the assumption is a tech program costs money.
“People dismiss that because they can’t afford to do it [but] what they offer here is completely free,” Doherty said.
These free programs help people like Doherty but still require outside funding and financial support for CCL. On Sept. 8, CCL will host its 15th annual gala at the Chicago Cultural Center. It will serve as a fundraiser and honor the nonprofit’s dedicated work to helping the community and show that limited resources don’t equal impossibility. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. According to CCL’s website data from the last three years, it has served 1,170 households and many were struggling when they entered the program:
- 82 percent had income that qualified them as living below the Federal Poverty Line
- 77 percent were unemployed
- 60 percent lived in the Logan Square area
- 59 percent were Latinos
- 50 percent were experiencing homelessness
Since then, 164 people increased their income, 131 of whom did so via job placement with the help of a coach, as in Doherty’s case. They laugh and add that their coach also assisted them with more practical financial stuff.
“They’ve certainly helped me be more independent—I’ve been able to pick up on things like job searching, managing my own finances… things I never properly taught myself before I was off living on my own,” Doherty said, adding their appreciation factor for CCL is quite high.
CCL is part of 10 Financial Opportunity Centers across Chicago that support low-income families and provide resources on banking, investments, employment and education options. Since 2009, over 9,000 people have found jobs through the network. These FOCs are supported by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national organization founded in 1980 that has local chapters around the country. It helps in a variety of ways that all point to creating more vibrant and equitable communities through better housing, job opportunities, local businesses and having access to good education, to name a few.
Jennifer McClain, director of financial opportunities at LISC Chicago, said CCL has partnered with LISC since 2006 and complimented the effort of the organization as it has transitioned over the years.
“Center for Changing Lives is a great organization in that with limited resources they are able to have a big impact. The services they provide are much needed in the community and valued by the people that comeJennifer McClain, director of financial opportunities at LISC Chicago
therebut also by the organizations they partner with.”
Like CCL itself, McClain said LISC is facing a challenging decision after 12 years of helping multiple job networks. Do they continue to build the capacity of the organization they have been working with or do they spread the wealth and work with others to build their capacity and impact? It’s the question McClain is facing this year because she sees both sides of the coin.
“The best case scenario would be to continue working with the organizations we are working with as well as work with new ones, but the reality is we don’t have the money and resources to do that, so we have to make a decision,” she said.
The answer remains to be seen but will depend on what resources the company receives this year and which nonprofit networks are in the most need of assistance. Either way, McClain said the impact of these financial centers is visible through the clients and staff who work there.
“It’s great to see people grow as individuals and the staff achieve their career goals,” she said. “That’s so exciting to see and one of the things I really love about working with them.”