When the University of Chicago was looking to bridge the resource gap for its South Side neighbors early in the COVID-19 pandemic, longstanding community partnerships allowed the institution to act quickly. One such partner, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, helped identify 27 small businesses in need and provided assistance as those businesses applied for and were awarded $93,000 in grants through the University’s COVID-19 Community Support Initiative.
“The University streamlined the process to make it easy for business owners to get resources right away and to help with some of the looming debt and expenses that were piling up as a result of COVID,” Tonya Trice, executive director of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said. “Operating a business when times are good is challenging, so to have some of these small business owners struggle to survive during a pandemic like COVID, it was just devastating, and the University really stepped up to the plate.”
The South Shore Chamber was one of eight business support organizations the University partnered with as other public and private aid was still coming online. Through those partnerships the University was able to reach across its nine-neighborhood focus area and their commercial corridors in a way that it might not have happened otherwise, Trice says. In South Shore’s case, the partnership and accompanying grant have allowed the Chamber, and in turn the small businesses it serves, to build stronger networks and professional support systems.
“Being a part of a program with a world-renowned institution such as the University of Chicago really gives us a lot of credibility in terms of applying for grants and working with other philanthropic organizations, so I’m very grateful to be a part of that,” Trice said.
Trice has participated in a number of University programs and says that as the community has grappled with both the COVID pandemic and the aftermath of the recent killing of George Floyd and others, she has been able to apply lessons learned through those programs to lift up her organization and her community as a leader during an uncertain time. Taking part in the School of Social Service Administration’s Certificate in Nonprofit Management program, for instance, gave Trice a better idea of how to approach fundraising when it’s needed most. The Office of Civic Engagement-led Community Development Working Group allowed her to connect with other South Side community leaders, she says, and provided a foundation for engaging with the University in new ways.
Reflecting on the past several months, Trice says she sees a stronger sense of unity in South Shore despite the challenges the community has faced. And whether it’s offering capacity-building support or donating campus flowers to brighten commercial corridors alongside just-painted plywood storefront murals, the University partnership has played an important role in facilitating future recovery, Trice says.
“They have been a great partner and shown support by not only funding programming, but also offering general operating dollars to community-based organizations that are on the ground doing the work,” she says. “And that means a lot.”