On Dec. 2 at the United Center, 13 Chicagoland nonprofit organizations were on hand to receive grants for the 2014-15 season.
Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls Charities, grant recipients pros at giving back

By Adam Fluck | 12.04.2014

The Chicago Bulls have won a lot of games over the years on the floor of the United Center, but some of the organization’s most important victories may have come in the game of life.

It’s those off the court success stories that have made the organization a champion in the community by helping those who are less fortunate.

Among the many ways to give back is providing financial support, something the Bulls have done actively since the founding of CharitaBulls in 1987. As that entity morphed into Chicago Bulls Charities nearly three years ago, a refined focus was born and part of that included a formal grant-making process.

On Tuesday at the United Center, 13 Chicagoland nonprofit organizations were on hand to receive grants for the 2014-15 season.

Eight of the grants were made through the Chicago Bulls Community Assist Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund. That fund, established in 2009, is supported with major funding from Chicago Bulls Charities, which is matched 50% by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

According to Michael Reinsdorf, President and Chief Operating Officer for the Bulls, the formal grant process not only allows the team to further demonstrate the its commitment to the community, but do so more effectively.

“It gives us a little more focus,” explained Michael. “As a result, we’ve been able to learn a lot about the different charities that are out in the Chicagoland community. I’ve been amazed by the process. The McCormick Foundation has been great to work with and they’ve lent a lot of their expertise along the way. For us, it’s about trying to do our part in the community.”

Nancy Reinsdorf and Leslie Forman, President and Vice President of Chicago Bulls Charities, respectively, explained that the process itself, which begins with a letter of inquiry before finalists submit full grant applications, allows the Bulls to maximize the people they touch and the impact that is made.

“We really wanted to learn the best way to go through the process and give grants,” said Nancy. “We didn’t want to put money into places that weren’t sustainable. Understanding that some of these people have been around for a good length of time is important. Also, knowing that they are being watched and held accountable means a lot, because even if someone has done great work in the past, they don’t always stick with it. The people we have here are very, very focused.”

“It’s so exciting and it really allows us to focus on our three areas,” stated Leslie, referencing the team’s commitment to youth education, health and wellness, and violence prevention. “When we raise money, it helps us in showing our fans and the community what we’re going to do with those dollars and how important it is to give back through our charitable partners. We’ve really enjoyed connecting with them and the whole process has provided us with better connection to our community.”

Grants through the Chicago Bulls Community Assist Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund were awarded to After School Matters, After-School All-Stars, City Year Chicago, Greater Chicago Food Depository, La Rabida Children’s Hospital, Marwen, Mercy Home and Youth Guidance.

In addition, Chicago Bulls Charities awarded grants to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago, Bright Pink, Crushers Club, Gilda’s Club Chicago and SkyART (formerly the South Chicago Art Center).

“The Bulls are a great avenue for us to make an introduction to their fan base. By partnering together, we can reach out to that fan base,” said Bill Koll, Director of Communities Program for the McCormick Foundation. “We hear so many negative stories about the city of Chicago and some of its problems. But I’m struck by the heroic efforts of the social service agents here. These folks are out there every day doing really difficult work.”

Though it was a night for celebration for all involved, as Koll noted, it’s not about one night.

“It’s about the everyday grind that is happening,” said Koll. “What I take home with me is the knowledge that there are folks out there who have dedicated their lives to doing this work. They roll up their sleeves and do it every single day.”

In that category is After School Matters, which provides hands-on, project-based apprenticeships to high school students in Chicago’s most underserved areas in arts, science, technology, communication and sports.

“We have a strong footprint across Chicago, supporting 15,000 teens a year,” said Carolyn Broughton, Associate Director of Development. “So the funding from the Bulls will be used across all of our programs and it’s a huge impact.”

The group garnered national attention this past fall when Derrick Rose personally donated $1 million to the organization.

More recently, when Rose’s latest shoe was unveiled at a downtown shoe store in late October, After School Matters teens were there to interact with Rose, who spoke to the group about goal setting, hard work and never being content.

While Rose’s donation and support were massive contributions, the discussion that took place as a result led to greater awareness of the program and more inquires about how others can get involved.

“Derrick has a similar background to a lot of the teens we serve,” said Broughton. “We heard from kids who were amazed that Derrick wanted to invest in their future.”

“That Derrick is from Chicago made it very personal for the kids,” noted Adrienne Curry, Chief Program Officer.

Thanks to Rose and the Bulls, After School Matters is now able to reach more teens, particularly in the summer months when school is out.

According to Broughton, active engagement has been the key to making the relationship a success. It only helps that Michael Reinsdorf is on the board and fully engaged with the organization’s programming committee.

Bright Pink, which focuses on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women while providing support for high-risk individuals, is another nonprofit which has benefitted significantly as a result of support from the Bulls.

“It has truly allowed us to grow exponentially,” said Lindsay Avner, Founder and CEO. “With a partner like Chicago Bulls Charities, it’s not just a financial contribution. They are incredibly invested in our success and they’ve literally fueled our mission in a way that is unmatched.”

According to Avner, it’s programming such as an educational workshop over lunch with the team’s front office and events with player wives and the Luvabulls which have paid significant dividends. In other words, it’s more than financial contributions that the Bulls are making.

“It is so in their DNA to give back,” stated Avner. “It starts with the leadership. Nancy’s vision, energy and charisma, in addition to her ability to focus on what’s important, allows her to work towards making the greatest difference on the greatest amount of lives. Then Michael has done an amazing job rallying the internal team for some additional incorporation.”

Avner also recalled a conversation that took place at last year’s grant recipient reception. It ended up being the starting point for what would ultimately allow Bright Pink to educate nearly 600 underserved women and equip them with breast and ovarian health educational tools and resources.

“When I go to them and I say, ‘I think there is a door that could allow us to educate and save lives’, never once have they said no,” Avner explained. “Those are the kinds of people you dream of having in your life not only personally, but also professionally.”

As representatives from After School Matters, Bright Pink and the other grant recipients gathered, Michael Reinsdorf couldn’t help but look around the room with a sense of respect and appreciation.

“It’s a collection of organizations who are proven winners,” said Michael. “They’re the best in their business in the charity world. When you look at what they’ve done over the years, there are measurable results and you can see the difference they’ve made in peoples’ lives. All of those organizations are appreciative of being associated with the Chicago Bulls, but we’re just as appreciative of being associated with them.”

In addition to the pregame reception, the grant recipients were recognized in an on-court ceremony following the first quarter of the Bulls game against the Dallas Mavericks. It was simply another way that the team could give back to a collection of individuals who spend their lives doing the same for their community.

“Getting to share things with the fans is one of the best things about being affiliated with this great organization,” explained Nancy, who recalled sharing the team’s six championship trophies with the fans. “It’s not just about the team or the front office, it’s about all of us as one community and one city. For us to be able to showcase the people who we believe are doing some of the best work in our city in their areas is an amazing feeling. It’s insurmountable.”