Cook County Announces Nearly $3 million in Additional Starting Block Grant Awards for Community-Based Organizations

Grant initiative provides capacity building funding to support the growth of organizations throughout Cook County

(Cook County, IL) - Today, the office of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the Cook County Justice Advisory Council announced an additional $3 million in grant awards under the Cook County Starting Block Grant Initiative. The capacity building grant initiative supports small to medium sized non-profit organizations looking to develop their infrastructure to increase organizational health, growth and sustainability. 

“Cook County has long recognized the impact community-based organizations have in the lives of individuals and the vital role they play in communities, particularly those that have been historically underserved,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Despite being key stakeholders that advance the health, safety and economic success of residents and communities, funding for these organizations to address key operational needs has been limited. We are proud that the Starting Block Grant initiative fills this critical gap and will help many non-profit organizations achieve greater stability now, and for the future.”

The almost $3 million in new Starting Block Grant awards will support a cohort of 31 community-based non-profit organizations working in diverse sectors from Arts and Culture to Health and Human Services, serving communities across Cook County. This funding builds on the nearly $5 million of grants awarded to a cohort of 50 organizations in December 2023. The second cycle of funding brings the total investment to $7,838,762 in capacity building grants under the Starting Block Grant Initiative. 

The grant initiative aims to increase equity in grantmaking in Cook County by supporting the individualized capacity building efforts of non-profit organizations with annual operating budgets under $1 million. The initiative, funded by the Cook County Equity Special Purpose Fund, and the Cook County Justice Advisory Council (JAC), recognizes that smaller and grassroots organizations play important roles in communities but often face barriers to securing consistent funding or meeting goals for growth. 

“The Starting Block Grant initiative was designed in response to feedback and observation that many smaller community organizations are held back by operational limitations or lack the funding to meet meaningful goals that are just out of reach”, said Avik Das, Executive Director of the JAC. “We see these organizations doing incredibly impactful work in communities with limited resources and support. Starting Block Grants are an investment in their long-term sustainability and success, designed to help them innovate and thrive in a changing world and ultimately serve the community at a higher level.”

Awarded organizations are receiving funding for eligible capacity building priorities including strategic planning and partnership development; creation of diversity, equity and inclusion plans; staff training; and improvements in bookkeeping, data management, technology and more.

Susan Klumpner, Executive Director of the The ACE Project shared the organization “reframes adverse childhood experiences by enabling active children to excel through a variety of youth development programs led by parents, teachers, social workers, and school aides. With capacity funding through the Cook Country Starting Block Grant, ACE will make critical infrastructure improvements so this grassroots movement can continue supporting local leaders in elevated roles within the organization and in the Riverdale/Dolton communities. After celebrating a decade of success in 2023, ACE is excited to see how this grant will shape our growth over the next 10 years by creating more economic opportunities.”

"Our organization believes that midwives, when empowered to work in community-based settings, are a viable solution to addressing the harrowing reality of disproportionate maternal and infant outcomes in our country" said Star August, Executive Director of the Black Midwifery Collective. "In Cook County, we are working to grow the midwifery workforce and address systemic barriers to aspiring midwives of color by collaborating with City Colleges of Chicago in opening a nationally-accredited Certified Professional Midwife  education program on the South Side of Chicago. The Cook County Starting Block Grant will support this goal by enabling us to increase our team's administrative capacity at a critical moment of growth."

"We are a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting residents in west side communities with targeted community outreach, disaster assistance, youth development, violence prevention, case management, and advocacy support," said Schanel Princess Shaw, Executive Director of Light Up Lawndale. "With the Starting Block Grant Award, Light Up Lawndale will sustain a full-time executive director, marking a pivotal transition from entirely volunteer-run operations to the next phase of growth. This strategic advancement will not only amplify our ability to address pressing issues affecting residents of North Lawndale and neighboring Chicago communities, but will also fortify our capacity to implement sustainable, long-term solutions and foster community development."

The top service sectors for awarded organizations are Education, Violence Prevention, Community and Economic Development, Arts and Culture and Human Services. The 31 awarded organizations serve over 130 different Chicago neighborhoods and suburban municipalities in Cook County. The community areas served by the highest concentration of awarded organizations are Woodlawn, South Shore, Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Near West Side, and South Chicago.

To learn more about the Cook County Starting Block Grant initiative and view the full list of grant recipients, visit



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