Getting to Know Our Impact Partner
We are fortunate this quarter to be working with a combo partner (meaning they are both a product partner i.e. they make a social impact product as well as an impact partner i.e. they are a non-profit that actually delivers the direct impact!) BUILD Chicago. Check out our recent interview with BUILD Executive Director, Adam Alonso.
How did your organization get started, and how long have you been in existence?
Adam: BUILD’s mission is to engage at-risk youth in the schools and on the streets so they can realize their educational and career potential and contribute to the stability, safety and well-being of our communities.
Founded in 1969 as a pioneering gang intervention program serving fewer than 200 youth in Chicago’s West Town community, BUILD has been a second family for Chicago’s marginalized youth, helping thousands of young people facing the steepest challenges—like poverty, involvement in the justice system, and chronic exposure to violence and other sources of trauma—escape gang violence and become leaders in safer, stronger communities.
BUILD now reaches over 6,500 youth and families annually in five of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods—Austin, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Hermosa, and Fuller Park, using a model recognized as effective by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
Fun fact: BUILD was actually spun off from the YMCA and founded by Hank Bach and Bob Gemilo in 1969 as the first street gang intervention program- we turn 50 this year!
What is the most important impact you make as an organization?
Adam: BUILD is known for engaging the highest-need youth in long-term mentoring relationships with staff who have walked in their shoes. In fact, our long-standing dedication to employing a diverse staff that reflects the cultures and demographics of the communities we serve is a critical part of our overall strategy.
BUILD staff—including former gang leaders, successfully reintegrated offenders, and former BUILD youth, 80% of whom comes from the communities we serve—have often experienced challenges similar to those our young people face, and as such have the ability to form trusting, credible relationships with youth, many of whom come with significant trust issues. These mentor relationships are foundational to our work and are key to our success in helping high-need youth change their life trajectories and realize their full potential.
While other Chicago organizations serve youth facing steep barriers to success, and others serve those in crisis, BUILD differs in that after we work with young people to resolve the crisis, BUILD brings them into the fold, enrolling youth in a component of our comprehensive programming, and remaining in their lives, long-term.
What is something most people don’t know about your organization that they should?
Adam: One thing people might not realize about BUILD is that we are one of the oldest gang intervention organizations in Chicago, performing this dangerous—and rewarding—work since 1969. As one of the nation’s longest-serving violence prevention and youth development organizations, BUILD has shaped a unique model and distinctive strategic approach that has transformed tens of thousands of lives since 1969, when the agency started its work with 200 gang members in Chicago’s West Town community. BUILD stands out in several important ways.
First, we have pioneered a holistic, relationship-driven service model that integrates immediate-term violence intervention with sustained, comprehensive programming that weaves together violence prevention, positive youth development and social emotional learning, educational and career readiness support, and clinical wellness services to ensure that every BUILDer has access to a robust support system and growth opportunities.
Second, this integrated approach is backed by a long-term, ‘whatever-it-takes’ engagement strategy that establishes continuity for young people, who form lasting relationships with our adult mentors, prevention specialists and educators. These family-like connections are frequently cited as a standout quality by our youth. Lastly, BUILD exclusively serves the “highest-risk” youth, in communities that face the steepest challenges. This focus enables the deep ties and long-term perspective that makes our programs particularly responsive to shifting needs.
One other thing would be that we have incorporated arts in all of our programming across all of our sites as a tool to connect young people to their voice, their purpose and as an outlet to some of their toughest, personal struggles!
What is something that most people don’t know about philanthropy/NPO that they should?
Adam: Nonprofits are asked to solve some society’s most complex problems without the full resources to do so and then are evaluated on their progress. EVERY gift matters – $5 to $5,000 to $500,000. One perennial struggle faced by nonprofits is the shortage of funders who support the actual full cost of doing business. It is common for funders to restrict support for important business functions that are considered standard operating costs in the for profit sector — such as measurement, new business development, planning, and project management.
Like every responsible not-for-profit, BUILD does the utmost to maximize the percentage of revenue (over 80%) that directly supports our youth programs, and strives to keep its back office expenses moderate and fully transparent. This approach ensures we consistently outperform industry benchmarks, as evidenced by our Four Star Charity Navigator rating and Guidestar Platinum status. Yet we are also mindful of the need to commit adequate resources to ensure that our administrative and revenue generating functions are robust and efficient — which ensures our youth can count on an organization that meets their needs and functions without interruption during lean times.
BUILD is pleased to see that a growing number of foundation, corporate, and individual philanthropists are finally recognize the value of well-structured business operations, and supporting necessary back-office costs that are considered standard in the for-profit sector
What is the biggest problem BUILD is trying to solve?
Adam: Great outcomes for youth growing up in under resourced communities plagued with violence and apathy. BUILD’s biggest challenges stem from the violence and economic inequity that waste the potential and damage the lives of thousands of youth across the city.
Our mission is to directly engage at-risk youth wherever they are — in the schools or on the streets — so they can realize their full potential, and contribute as leaders to the success of our communities. We focus on youth who have the deck stacked against them, who face what often seem insurmountable obstacles, yet have the same promise as other youth—if they are supported with opportunities and resources that middle-class youth often take for granted.
Through holistic, wraparound services, BUILD works to help all young people succeed and realize their potential, regardless of individual challenges and neighborhood barriers. BUILD’s dedicated, passionate staff help youth and develop the skills and resilience they need to overcome obstacles, achieve as individuals, and become essential contributors to safer, stronger, and healthier communities.
Thank You, BUILD!
We are grateful to BUILD for all they do to serve our youth, and that is why we selected them to be our impact partner for our first quarter Children Cause. To check out more about BUILD Chicago, visit https://www.buildchicago.org/.
Think you know a charity or organization that would make a good partner for Crate of Good? Let us know on our Partnership page.