At Washington Park’s 13th Flow fitness studio, the transition from leading group classes in person to leading them online as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold in recent weeks has been a difficult adjustment for business owner Elisabeth Akinwale.
“A huge part of what we do is coaching and instruction that’s done when you’re in the room with someone so both from a teaching and technical perspective, it’s definitely shifted things,” Akinwale said. “And then the other big part is that feeling of community and that feeling where you belong. Those key elements were sort of pulled out from under us.”
But thanks to a just-announced small business bridge grant from the University of Chicago, Akinwale and her business partner will be able to take in a small income through their now completely-online offerings and provide their members with basic equipment like exercise bands they’ve been buying and dropping off for at-home workouts while social distancing.
13th Flow is one of 182 South Side small businesses to receive a University grant to help bridge the resource gap in this critical period as public and private sector COVID-19 aid becomes available. This financial assistance is just one element of the institution’s South Side COVID-19 Community Support Initiative launched on March 30.
“The biggest thing for us is we want to be able to have a gym to come back to,” Akinwale said. “I envision these prongs coming out from the University to all the surrounding neighborhoods and we feel that interconnectedness. And if each of us can be successful, we’re building that network of customers and other small business owners so it’s just another way we’re all tied together. And it’s showing that it’s not always a competition, it’s all of us rising together.”
Spread across the University’s nine South Side neighborhood focus area, grantees received up to $7,500 to cover general operating expenses and direct support for impacted employees, many of whom are South Side residents. Awarded funds totaled more than $680,000 and included $125,000 from a $250,000 grant for the University’s Community Support Initiative provided by the Chicago Bears and Bears Care, the team’s charitable arm.
Other support provided through the initiative has included $157,000 in grants and $153,000 in rent relief to the University’s small business tenants and $400,000 in assistance to community-based nonprofits on the South Side. The initiative also includes a program to prepare and distribute, in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 225,000 meals for those facing food insecurity on the South Side – an effort supported through a $125,000 donation from the Chicago Bears and Bears Care.