The Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation is pausing its Community Grants program for one year to revise the application process so that it aligns with the foundation’s updated mission to promote racial justice and equity for residents of the communities in western Cook County, not just those in Oak Park and River Forest.
The grants will resume in summer 2024, with a new application process designed to reflect that mission, with the money that would normally be divvied up into grants awarded to non-profits in 2023 set aside for the next grant cycle.
“So next year, that funding will be made available on top of the funding that’s available from our endowment at that time, pretty much doubling the grants that we will be giving out next year,” said Antonio Martinez Jr, foundation president and CEO.
The foundation awards community grants to local non-profit organizations to support both general and specific needs, depending on the applicant. The size of each individual grant varies, according to Martinez, ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 per recipient, depending on need. Whether the foundation will choose to award larger amounts per grant or award grants to a greater number of recipients has yet to be determined.
“That’s why we’re taking this year to really look at how best we can make an impact with our grant making,” said Martinez.
The foundation’s staff and its board of directors made the decision to take a year off from distributing grants through this program based on work conducted over the last three years to identify the needs and desires of the communities the foundation serves. The identified areas include promoting youth engagement and youth voices, providing direct support to people of color, increasing access to healthcare and mental health services and more accessible green spaces and grocery stores.
During the pause, the foundation will strategize how best to address these goals through the Community Grants program, which will have a brand-new application process when it resumes. The pause will allow the foundation to evaluate any potential barriers its current application process may present that could prevent worthy causes from receiving its grants.
“We’re pausing this year so we can really take a look at our grantmaking holistically and how we can be much better in the way we serve,” said Martinez.
The Community Grants is not the only program through which the foundation supports residents, organizations and communities, so the one-year pause will present no impact to its other programs, which distribute roughly $4 million in funding yearly. Scholarships, donor-advised funds, enrichment grants will still be awarded in 2023, with foundation giving groups continuing operations and distribution efforts. The Russell & Josephine Kott Charitable Memorial Trust will likewise not be impacted by the pause.