The Steans Family Foundation was established in 1987 after it sponsored a group of seventh graders from the Lathrop Homes, a former public housing development on the northwest side of Chicago, to see them “to and through” college. This partnership with the “I Have a Dream” program provided students with academic enrichment opportunities and other supports to help them realize their career aspirations. As a result of this experience, the Steans family deepened its awareness of the range of issues facing individuals and families who don’t earn living wages, and the communities in which they live. In 1996, the Steans Family Foundation began its place-based approach and developed a partnership with leaders and residents of the North Lawndale community on Chicago’s west side under the leadership of founding Executive Director, Greg Darnieder. With a comprehensive lens, the intentional development of deep, mutually respectful relationships with community stakeholders, and a commitment to community partnership, trustees believed the Foundation could have the greatest life-changing impact if its resources and social capital were concentrated in a designated community. This approach also allowed individual family members to become personally and actively involved in the Foundation’s mission.
Today, the Steans Family Foundation continues its commitment to North Lawndale, and in 2016, added North Chicago, a city 40 miles north of Chicago, to its place-based work. To augment the work in both North Lawndale and North Chicago, the Steans Family Foundation’s policy and ecosystem program works across multiple issue areas including early childhood, education, employment, and community development. This priority seeks to connect systems-level change to real impact on community members by grounding the policy agenda in the challenges and opportunities in the communities served.