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Giving where it matters most

Updated: December 24, 2012 2:15AM

For a few reasons, December is a big month for charitable giving.

There are tax deductions to accumulate as well as a giving spirit connected to the holidays.

This month’s issue of Chicago magazine featured 15 local nonprofits that use 75 percent or more of their funds for programs. According to the magazine, 95 percent of the budget for United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago is spent on programs; PAWS Chicago uses 91 percent for its pet-adoption programs and advocacy for humane treatment of animals.

Those percentages are astounding.

In recent months I have written about under-the-radar initiatives in Chicago that also could use your help. Every dime goes to the cause and donations are tax deductible.

In August I wrote about La Casa in the Pilsen neighborhood. It is a brand-new dormitory for students across the U.S. that qualify for financial aid and are attending universities and community colleges in the city. It costs less than campus housing, and some students receive scholarships.

In October, La Casa held a ribbon-cutting ceremony that the governor and a few aldermen attended. Maria Bucio, La Casa’s director, stayed out of sight, but her role behind the scenes is major. She is a financial aid expert who used to work for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. She holds workshops at La Casa on financial aid and admissions processes for high school and community college students who live in the area.

Word is slowly but steadily spreading about La Casa, and Bucio is busy recruiting students for next fall. Donations can be made through, and you can restrict your donation to the La Casa fund.

Last month I wrote about the Illinois Institute of Technology’s initiative to bring students from Syria to its South Side campus. Twenty-eight students were accepted among hundreds of

applicants and received partial scholarships, but half couldn’t meet the rest of the financial obligation.

In recent months those students secured loans or sponsorships. If they can make it through the war-torn country to secure student visas in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, they will be on their way next month.

Megan Mozina, IIT’s assistant director for international outreach, told me many of the 14 current Syrian students had straight A’s for the fall semester. Faculty and classmates have embraced them, and one woman majoring in electrical engineering was welcomed into the school’s National Society of Black Engineers.

The Syrian students will soon branch out to mentor nearby elementary school students and foster an exchange program in which Chicago students share art projects electronically with Syrian children in refugee camps, vice provost Gerald Doyle said.

They students now “see themselves as Chicagoans,” Doyle said. It probably will be years before they can return safely to their native country. If you can lend financial support please go to

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