Meet Your Neighbor: ICECF

Meet Your Neighbor: ICECF

(Special thanks to Derek Serafin at Motion PR and Matthew Kurtzman at ICECF for their time, their efforts, and their contributions)

Like many of us in Chicago, I've been busy dealing with the harsh weather...meaning that the last thing on my mind is focusing on the beginning of the school year. For Matthew Kurtzman, Executive Director of the Illinois Currency Exchange Charitable Foundation (or ICECF), it is a major motivation as he leads the three-and-a-half-year-old non-profit in driving efforts to impact Chicago-area children.

Their major project is purchasing pre-assembled school supply kits for low-income students. In 2013, the organization purchased 750,000 school supply kits to provided help to 25,000 children in low-income families. Most of ICECF's efforts come in collaboration with other organizations, such as the YMCA of Metro Chicago (with 65 locations throughout the city); Operation Homefront Illinois (which focuses on military bases throughout the state of Illinois) and the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services. If the only activity that the Foundation engaged in focused on school supplies for low-income children, that would make ICECF impressive enough....

...but ICECF does not limit its efforts to its Back2School program. Working towards improving the welfare of all Chicago children, the Foundation engages in a wider variety of activities focused on promoting the health and welfare of youth. The Foundation runs a College Scholarship program for deserving students, which may seem like a natural outgrowth of their Back2School program. ICECF is also working on a Healthy Minds/Healthy Bodies Boot Camp for 5th and 6th graders, to encourage them to develop healthier eating habits and engage in more active lifestyles.

Yet Back2School is a very ambitious program, integrating a very strong - and intentional - approach to networking and developing professional working relationships. (It might even serve as a great example of "best practices" for many local non-profits). Although Back2School's initial start might have been simple (with the YMCA being a sole partner), ICECF has met the challenge in working with different organizations with different distribution methods. Partnering with Kits 4 Kidz (a division of Staples), ICECF acquires supplies in bulk, standardizing each kit and insuring that each child receives the same arrangement of supplies based on school guidelines. Working with DFSS (for example) means having the supplies shipped directly and having the kits assembled elsewhere. (For Operation Homefront Illinois, with a different infrastructure, pre-assembled kits may be provided, and the Foundation is working with DFSS on providing hygiene kits for homeless families). Working with diverse partners takes specific skill, focusing on a kind of networking that gets lost in discussion of non-profits and technology. Relationship building and cultivating can be a challenge, but it's a challenge that ICECF manages extremely well. With an impending partnership with Boys & Girls Club, ICECF will not only increase its reach, but will meet new logistical and distribution challenges....but much of their success comes from an ability to cultivate and develop those relationships.

So what can readers do to help? Although the initial temptation would be to donate school supplies to ICECF, this may not be the most effective. Since the organization purchases its own supplies, and has mechanisms which drive efficiency in delivering supplies to students, financial donations are a much more effective way to provide support. (Simply visit the Foundation's web site for details). The Foundation can also use volunteers, and has a kickoff luncheon on May 28th. Finally, potential supporters are always welcome to bring connections for sponsors or in-kind support of the Foundation's potential work in other areas....

In the midst of a harsh winter, it is hard to focus on efforts that happen at a different time of year. It's also easy to forget that networking is as much about building and cultivating working relationships as it is on "getting the word out". The Illinois Currency Exchange Charitable Foundation might not get a lot of press, but they're making great efforts towards the entire Chicago community....and I'm more than happy to help provide some publicity.

Want to nominate a great organization (with a focus on tech) for an upcoming post? Have questions? Please feel free to leave comments below. You're also more than welcome to reach out to me privately - contact information can be found via the About page. As always, thanks for reading!

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