For more than 20 years, PODER served immigrants to Chicago with legal, workforce, and language acquisition services—but without a permanent office to call its own. Today, the city’s largest immigrant integration center has its own headquarters in the southwest side neighborhood of Gage Park, thanks in part to support from We Rise Together: For an Equitable & Just Recovery.
The $1 million grant from We Rise Together—the largest grant PODER had ever received—enabled PODER to gain support from additional funders and open its doors in January 2023.
“Until we had this space, we were trying to serve clients out of multiple, changing locations,” said Griselda Piedra, community relations manager, PODER. “It didn’t give us the foothold we needed to really grow. Now that we have a permanent space, more people have been able to find us and access our resources. For example, we’ve had to add six in-person classes since we opened to meet demand, whereas in the past we’ve struggled to fill our in-person classes.”
Piedra also noted that PODER has been able to invite other community-serving organizations to use its new space, strengthening coordination and building new partnerships.
About a mile from PODER in neighboring West Lawn, We Rise Together also invested $1 million in Esperanza 63rd Street, a center that opened in June 2022 providing medical and behavioral health services. Esperanza Health Centers has multiple locations in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods across Chicago. The organization saw a need for a location in West Lawn because people were traveling from the community to its other locations to receive services. A primary care desert, West Lawn was one of the hardest hit areas during the pandemic.
“We knew that 90 percent of our capacity was north of the Stevenson, but 50 percent of our clients lived south of the Stevenson,” said Dan Fulwiler, President & CEO of Esperanza. “Fifty percent of our staff does, too. Esperanza 63rd allowed us to respond to those demographics.”
Within six months of opening its doors, Esperanza 63rd Street had already served as many clients as it expected to serve in its first year. In addition to meeting healthcare needs, the health center also seems to be having a positive effect on West Lawn’s economy: In partnership with Mastercard Data Services, We Rise Together has shown that since opening in June 2022, businesses within one mile of Esperanza 63rd Street have seen a 1 percent lift in consumer spending.
PODER and Esperanza 63rd Street are two of the 10 We Rise Together investments that have already opened, providing new jobs, much-needed healthcare, childcare, recreation, healthy food, and more. We Rise Together is supporting an additional 20 investments across the city to open their doors within the next year-and-a-half.
In addition, We Rise Together grants in these same communities have gone to organizations that support thriving Black- and Latinx-owned businesses and provide job training and connections to improve local employment, with the overarching goal of building thriving neighborhood economies for a stronger Chicago. For example, We Rise Together has provided more than $200,000 in grants to nonprofits providing workforce and small business support in the Gage Park/West Lawn area—including a grant to PODER and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future to provide job coaching and connections to PODER’s clients. At a recent PODER job fair, more than 30 attendees received job offers on-site.
“PODER HQ is proof that there is pent-up demand for investment in disinvested communities,” said Piedra. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to grow and to bring new services and opportunities to help individuals and families be successful.”