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  • Kim Piekos

Lake Foresters Invest in Lake County Communities in Need

By Kim Piekos

Interesting fact: a Lake Forest resident will live an average of 14 years longer than someone living in North Chicago. Though these communities are separated by a few miles, they are worlds apart in needs and resources.

Enter a small but mighty group of Lake Foresters who met around Addie Morrison’s kitchen table in 2003 to discuss how they might make a difference. The result: the creation of The Lake County Community Foundation (LCCF), an organization that supports improving the quality of life of the most vulnerable residents in Lake County.

Lake County Community Foundation Board Secretary Tiffany Alexander (left) and former board members Bert Carstens, Steve Sullivan, Gale Strenger Wayne and Martha Hinchman get together in support of an initiative. “We believe that by raising the tide for everyone, we’re taking an equity approach to supporting the broader Lake County community,” explains Executive Director Maggie Morales.

LCCF serves all of Lake County, but it prioritizes its investment and work in historically disinvested communities such as Waukegan, North Chicago, Highwood, Zion and Antioch. Over the last three years, LCCF enjoyed a 250 percent increase in funds requested from organizations areas across the county.

“We have significant needs in Lake County, and those needs are growing fast,” explains longtime Lake Forest resident Martha Hinchman, the organization’s longest-serving board member. “There are opportunities to invest in solutions to improve the lives of many people.”

As the community foundation for Lake County, LCCF pools local resources and invests them back into initiatives that make Lake County a better place to live. Working with donors and community partners, LCCF leverages collective knowledge, creativity and resources for meaningful impact.

“Our goal is to align donors’ investment interests and priorities with needs in the community,” says Morales.

To do this, LCCF manages donor-advised funds to support various impactful programming in these communities. “Many people want to make significant donations but are unsure where to invest the money,” Morales explains. “We meet with individuals and families and help them identify areas in which they might want to invest. Our deep knowledge of the community and specific programming their dollars will support makes the investment more personal for them.”

Hinchman concurs. “We keep people’s dollars local. They can see where they are making a difference for their neighbors just miles away.”

In addition to contributing to a donor-advised fund, those interested in giving can join the Love Where You Live Club and donate a certain amount each month to fund grants for local nonprofits, participate in LCCF’s corporate giving program or create an endowment. Volunteers with experience in finance, law, communications, fundraising and human resources are needed on committees.

Though housing, food insecurity, access to care, education and legal support are priority focuses for LCCF, the organization also seeks to invest in building community pride through its Community Ownership program area. Morales, a Waukegan native, says she loved living in Waukegan until students she met from other communities in high school expressed their sympathy that she was from there. “When you hear that others think your community is terrible, you begin to own that even if you love where you live,” she says.

When LCCF heard about Big Andrew, a Waukegan native who attended Ravinia for the first time last summer and was taken with the feeling of belonging he experienced, the nonprofit wanted to support his plans to bring that to Zion and North Chicago. Big Andrew has since planned and hosted concerts in local parks where families can enjoy a picnic in a safe space, take home food baskets and feel pride in and a part of their community.

“He is a good guy who wants to get civically involved and do something good for his community,” Morales says.

Another initiative involves investing in leadership training for some Lake County non-profits, especially emerging leaders of color. “Professional development tends to reside in the cities,” says Morales. “We partner with a family from Lake Forest, who generously supports organizations providing quality, local professional development training. This investment yields lasting results for the community.”

The foundation is in a five-year, $16 million capital campaign to raise funds for its Operations Endowment. “Many people want their funds to go towards programming, but we also need to keep the lights on and pay the salaries of our excellent staff,” says Morales.

Initially founded as an affiliate of The Chicago Community Trust, LCCF branched out on its own. Former Lake Forest resident Robert Reusche left a $1 million legacy gift in his will at the outset to establish LCCF’s operating endowment, which has grown to over $6 million.

Morales aims to honor the legacy of Lake Foresters who were members of the first Board of Directors with her work today.

“The efforts of this visionary group coming together to find ways to address their neighbors’ quality of life underscores the fact that together, people can make an impact far greater than any one person can alone,” says Morales.

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