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Partnering to Support Students and Families

CIS of Chicago Collaborates with Advocates for Change on School Supply Drive in Wake of Highland Park Shooting

Gun violence in America permeates every part of the country. Big cities, small towns, malls, movie theaters, schools, parade routes. It feels as though no corner of the United States is immune from its effects. As of September 18, 2022, Gun Violence Archive reported a total of 493 mass shootings for the calendar year, an average of almost two mass shootings per day to date.

In Chicago, gun violence is particularly pernicious, with gun homicides largely concentrated in neighborhoods where disinvestment, poverty, and systemic segregation have plagued communities for decades. A recent Brookings Institute study showed that as Chicago’s murder rate increased by 53 percent from 2019 to 2020, neighborhoods on the West, South, and Southwest Sides suffered at much greater levels. No community in Chicago, however, is totally exempt from the impacts of gun violence.

On July 4, 2022, the Chicago suburb Highland Park experienced terror when a mass shooter infiltrated an Independence Day parade, killing seven individuals and injuring 48 more. Highland Park, located about 25 miles of downtown Chicago on the lakefront, has a crime rate of 0.99 per 1,000 residents, less than a quarter of the average crime rate for the state of Illinois.

In the aftermath of the parade shooting, the idyllic community was left wondering what more can be done to prevent mass shootings from occurring, not only in communities where the crime rate is low, but in all communities across America. Residents of Highland Park turned their thoughts into action. They banded together to create Advocates for Change, an independent group of community members and activists looking to make a difference in the fight against gun violence.

Advocates for Change wanted to support children affected by gun violence, a segment of the population often forgotten about in gun-related crimes. According to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an estimated three million American children witness a shooting each year, and more than 3,500 children and teens are shot and killed each year.

To reach youth directly, Advocates for Change connected with Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago, an education nonprofit which supports more than 70,000 Chicago youth on their path to graduation. CIS of Chicago has a long history – three decades running – of supporting students in systemically disinvested communities.

In the 2022-23 school year alone, CIS of Chicago is partnering with 200 Chicago Public Schools and linking students with critical programs, services, and resources that empower them to succeed in school and in life.

Dana Gordon of Advocates for Change shared the group’s interest in supporting Chicago youth with CIS’ Senior Gift Officer Dave Cotugno. Dave and his CIS colleague Sucada Bell discussed with Dana the needs of Chicago students, especially as they began another school year back in the classroom, and Dana and her team jumped into action.

Advocates for Change coordinated a large-scale supply drive that encompassed everything from school supplies to hygiene items for the classroom, like Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. Over a two-week span, dozens of packages containing over 1,500 items arrived at CIS’ headquarters. CIS of Chicago’s Partnership Team then inventoried the items and distributed them to 15 school communities where students who would benefit the most.

Partnership Team with School Supplies

“Advocates for Change has made a tremendous impact on our youth with their recent donation,” said CIS’ Dave Cotugno. “The National Retail Federation recently shared a report that families with children in elementary through high school plan to spend an average of $864 on school supplies this year, $168 more than in 2019.”

“On top of this, our families face countless barriers to learning, and we have seen first-hand the increased need for essential items like notebooks, folders, and hygiene supplies. We are grateful to Advocates for Change for stepping up with this donation at a time when our youth need us most.”

With the combined efforts of CIS of Chicago and Advocates for Change, Chicago students are starting the school year with the resources they need to succeed. And while the issue of gun violence cannot be solved overnight, it’s the collaboration of community organizations valuing and uplifting youth and communities that will make a difference in the fight to end gun violence.

It takes caring individuals, in neighborhoods across the country, to work to build places where children and families can live and thrive, without the threat of gun-related crimes.

Partnership Team with Hygiene Supplies



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