A Message From Our President
What a hand we were dealt in 2020 and what steep challenges we will face in 2021. But, I always see the glass as half full. I always see hope in the face of adversity and I will always make and hold space for those around me knowing that as a community we are stronger when we come together. When we care, connect and commit to change and making great impact on the world around us. It all begins by looking around us. This keen attention to detail will afford us the ability to see more than the average and allow us to begin with just the little things that we can commit to changing. Things like feeding the hungry, mentoring a child, caring for the elderly or simply making a contribution to move something along that lifts others up, then becomes possible. 2021 and beyond demands more of a heart from all of us.
We Invite you to
Care, Connect, and Commit to Change
This work continues to demand that we all engage; it cannot be achieved in a vacuum, and it is why we ask that you connect and why we rally with others in our community to make this change happen. Please stay tuned by signing up for our newsletter so we can share with you what we will be doing at each quarter of the year.
Rember, an Investment in One Woman is an Investment in a Whole Community.
Muriel Baptiste, Executive Director
- Our Approach -
The Utopia Connect Foundation believes that Community wellness can be achieved through strategic planning and actions of people who work together for the good of everyone. In order to achieve this wellness, a spectrum of resources must be coordinated that fosters healthy decision making and creates a playing field for people and communities to be well.
We further believe that to ensure these resources are integrated into a community and are focused on wellness, a cross-sector of individuals, businesses, faith-based institutions, community based organizations, and health institutions must work together and with government to become advocates for policies that support this notion of wellness; but also to ensure that each community's needs are met so its residents can lead meaningful lives. As a strategy, we aim to eliminate the silos and blocks to effective communication that exists as it relates to resources and opportunities within cities. We also further the prospects for community wellness by making intentional investments, either through direct services, collaborative approaches or through advocacy.
Our approach strategies are focused on:
Connecting residents to city and community resources and services.
Engaging youth through planned programming and activities and through connection to other programs and services offered within their communities.
Engaging churches to serve as one of the main gatekeepers to helping families in and outside of their church to identify and meet their needs.
To seek out and create opportunities for women and girls to ensure women, who often serve as the glue to keeping households together are well supported and opportunities are in place that lends to their development.
To use the arts and a vehicle to enhance community building and as a means of placing positive emphasis on the art, the artists, and its place and impact on the community.
We believe that in order to achieve our vision we additionally must engage in advocacy to ensure a holistic approach is taken to how communities thrive.
We value the role volunteerism plays in building citizenry and empowering community residents to self-sustain
We place high emphasis on "belonging" and devise ways to ensure that residents feel like they belong or a welcomed and valued within their own communities.
And finally, we allow residents to take ownership of their community by identifying their needs and stepping up to become a part of the solution.
- Why We Care -
Lives Matter, Children Matter, Education Matters, Women Matter, Civility Matters...
Our board is comprised mainly of Chicago based-residents but everyone of us at the Utopia Connect Foundation have faced the hard reality of the plight of our community here in Chicago and are daily engaged in serving in various capacities that will affect change. We also draw the correlation to the direct impact environment, good role models, available parenting, safety, equitable education, healthcare, and access to housing and food plays on developing healthy communities. In some areas of Chicago we sense the contrary to the healthy communities we envision in the chart below, and instead, sense hopelessness and dejection as we hear of the senseless killings that have almost become a way of life. We sit within the pseudo safety of our homes and ponder on what can we do and how can we change this dismal trajectory for children and their families in Chicago. We acknowledge that no one is truly safe until stray bullets and violence cease. For us, it is not sufficient to move out of the city or turn a blind eye on the problem. We want to help change a value system. We certainly recognize that it cannot be done single handedly or in a vacuum and the most significant element in affecting long-term change is to engage the very people who are most impacted; allowing them to own the problem and become a part of the solution. As an organization we can vision and attempt to implement that vision but we MUST engage the people within those communities and change values and behaviors if we are ever going to see long-term change.
Much of the research done by some of the leading researchers suggests that the social environment shapes behaviors and outcomes. In its article, Community Change, The Annie E. Casey Foundation notes, "The communities where children live can have a significant impact on where they go and what they do in life. Kids in high poverty communities often experience harmful levels of stress from exposure to crime, frequent moves and lack of access to resources-good schools, medical care, safe outdoor spaces-essential to healthy development. They're also more likely to drop out of school and struggle financially as adults."
Knowing that if one lives in a run-down, crime infested neighborhood will only create high drop-out rates and ill adjusted adults, makes it no surprise what the present state is in many of our Chicago communities. What if we could change those scenarios? What if we could help to strategize ways to make communities cleaner and upkept? What if we could make resources discoverable for communities, allowing them to make healthier decisions? Maybe we could even allow children to grow up and not die before they exit high school or walk or drive home from pre-school?
There are things we can do individually and collectively to help change what our weekend headlines look and sound like in Chicago. To sit back and accept this as kosher is not good enough when we believe we can mobilize residents and others to invest and help create change. This effort is going to take all hands on deck and not just our government or the police. I think of a young man that I had the opportunity to work with within the last few years. He is no longer alive since he died, senselessly at 18-years old, the victim of an older man he got into an altercation with, who then ran him over with his car. I have always asked myself, "WHAT IF". What if I had launched our "Belonging to Something New" campaign sooner and had taught this young man some basic skills on how to "WALK AWAY". What if he had learned that he did not need to appear to be the bigger man on campus and his greater power could have been to kindly bow and then walk away? We often think it weak to walk away from conflict; but we have designed a few workshops and a campaign that is intended to actually make it cool, healthy, and actually empowering to walk away from conflict and become the winner-the true hero. Bigger than all else, these skills will save valuable lives and make our city a better place where children can grow up and lead meaningful lives.
We know that the work we can do as an organization will help to change a community by jointly identifying needs and jointly working to achieve change. We believe in the old adage that says, "It takes a Village". We are joining forces with Chicago neighborhoods with a particular focus on the west side, to infuse a different culture on living, learning, growing, and belonging.
Help us to create communities that look like this: We believe that working together we can achieve more than we can working alone in order to make Chicago a better place to live in that would allow our kids to live and not die.
In order to achieve healthier communities, we envision an environment where “Reaching” in our vision, is about stepping out ofour homes, our workplaces, and our comfort zones to help and serve in various places and in multiple ways. “Connecting” is about bonding and linking to people and places, and making associations to resources that will allow us to grow and make informed decisions about our lives and that of our families. If communities are destined for wellness, its people are willing to play the integral role in making that cultural shift in behavior, practice and mindset to collectively affect “Change”! It requires each one to adopt a personal resolve to do more, be more, give more, and care more.
YES! We are Adding Value to make communities better - We ask that you join us on this journey and we promise you, that your family, and your community, will undoubtedly flourish and thrive.
- More About Our Beginning-
I sat at home one Sunday morning as I cared for my mother with dementia and recognized how alone I was in this struggle. I had friends who cared deeply. I had very little family here in Chicago and to be more exact, I had only one nephew who lived 10-minutes away.
My mom has vascular dementia and needed brain surgery. After her surgery I took 3-months away from work to help nurse her back to health. During that time away from work, I had sufficient time on my hands to research all the things that bothered me, intrigued me, and inspired me. I wondered what if we could all join forces across this city by simply changing how we envisioned community. I wondered who would do it and wished someone would. And then it hit me that I was sitting around waiting and dreaming for someone else to do what I had imagined.
I wanted community. One that cared enough to recognize that I had needs or maybe I was absent and just needed to know someone cared. My church may have had good intentions but I did not hear from them or see them. This led me to ask, "what is the purpose of the church?" I further asked why was I inventing the wheel all over again in figuring out my mom's care? Someone must have done this before me. Someone had struggled with a nursing home and its deficit and decided to care for a parent from home instead. So why did I still feel so alone and not know where to turn? My friend, the internet, served as an amazing resource but I came to recognize that there is nothing greater than the personal experiences and relationships that you forge with people along the way, than to rely on the internet as your sole guide.
Utopia Connect Foundation was born on May 13, 2013. "Utopia" seemed most appropriate for what I was trying to create but it was the word "connect" that would prove to be the most operative and active word that would drive every interaction and direct every deliverable that we could dream of for Utopia Connect Foundation. I was bent on finding ways to not just engage in busy work but actually create avenues for people to connect, have their needs met, gain empowerment, dream, grow, and beyond that - thrive.
I recognized the following throughout this process:
That churches could be the top gatekeepers to identifying, directing, and supporting hurting and needy people within communities.
If we found ways to step outside of our comfort zones we could potentially connect with people, identify needs, and become an integral part of struggling communities solution.
If we collectively pooled our resources to address a common issue we could be successful in building community as well as empowering ourselves and self-sustaining to meet our needs.
One of the greatest things I realized was the need for organized information and easier access to community resources and services for all families and seniors.
Everyone could think about that mentor in their life who inspired them, so what if we could nurture more mentors to help connect youth to opportunities and provide direction and support?
And because I saw firsthand how the right mentorship and opportunities made me who I am as a woman; and how the abuse I witnessed as a child crippled and stagnated a grown woman, I knew that I wanted to create opportunities for women and girls that they too could be empowered and liberated.
My team and I have dreamt up some really amazing programs, projects, and collaborations that are simply just a dream without the right leadership and support to move it forward. Please take a moment to support our vision and help us grow strong and healthy communities.