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Business leaders have given nearly half of $50 million goal to combat Chicago violence

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced new investments mentoring after-school summer programs Harper High School 2013. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced new investments in mentoring, after-school and summer programs at Harper High School in 2013. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 11, 2013 6:54AM

Determined to stop the gang violence that’s damaging Chicago’s reputation around the world, business leaders and non-profits have donated nearly half the $50 million Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to raise to save at-risk kids.

Roughly $18.5 million in corporate contributions have been made in less than three weeks since Emanuel challenged a business community that bankrolled Millennium Park, the NATO Summit and Chicago’s failed 2016 Olympic bid to step up to help prevent youth violence.

Another $5 million was donated by the MacArthur Foundation to evaluate youth programs.

The fund-raising campaign is co-chaired by Tom Wilson, the Allstate Insurance CEO whose company gave the first $5 million, a donation matched by Exelon.

Mesirow Financial gave $1.25 million. Wal-Mart kicked in $1 million toward a pot of money that includes $2 million in corporate contributions left unspent after last year’s NATO Summit.

Loop Capital Markets also donated $1 million. Its CEO, Jim Reynolds, one of Chicago’s most prominent and respected African-American business leaders, is co-chairing the fund-raising campaign.

Sources said Reynolds and Wilson have been making fund-raising calls to business colleagues, as has Michael Sacks, the mayoral confidante who serves as vice chairman of World Business Chicago.

Emanuel himself has picked up the phone to pressure business leaders. His strong-arm fund-raising tactics are legendary in Democratic political circles and helped raise millions for a political action committee supporting President Barack Obama.

David Spielfogel, a senior adviser to the mayor, said the “amazing interest” from business leaders stems, in part, from the structure being put in place to monitor the effectiveness of youth programs and make certain that every dollar raised is spent on kids.

An independent “Donor Advised Fund” will be housed at the Chicago Community Trust, with administrative costs raised separately. The trust is waiving its standard processing fee to free an additional $300,000 to invest in youth programs.

The University of Chicago Crime Lab will evaluate funded programs and decide which ones are having enough impact to warrant further investment and which need work.

Funding will target proven programs that benefit a population of young people that hovers around 20,000.

Nearly half the violent crimes in Chicago involve school-age kids, roughly 7,500 of whom are considered high-risk. Another 12,000 young people are released from the juvenile justice system each year. An estimated 83 percent become repeat offenders within three years.

“Everybody wants to play a role in reducing violence in the city, and they see this as their best avenue,” Spielfogel said.

He pointed to the “Becoming A Man” program, for which Emanuel recently tripled city funding, as evidence of the potential to reduce violent crime.

“Go in a room with these kids, and you see that the mentoring and intervention programs [centered around Olympic sports] are turning around their lives,” Spielfogel said.

Roseanna Ander, executive director of the Chicago Crime Lab, said the level of commitment underscores the “desire and appetite” among business leaders to be “part of the solution” to violent crime.

“The reason we’re so encouraged about the direction this is taking is we will be able to partner with funded organizations to evaluate what impact those new investments have in terms of real-world outcome,” Ander said. “Were there kids whose lives were made better? Did we actually have an impact on violent crime?”

Last month, Emanuel challenged business leaders to help him reach “thousands and thousands” of young people who might otherwise be drawn to the gang violence that drew renewed national attention when it claimed the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton.

If, as expected, the mayor’s goal is reached, $40 million will be used to provide matching grants to proven mentoring and intervention programs based in and out of schools.

Another $5 million will be used as “seed” money for promising new programs. And $5 million more will be used to “build community capacity and strengthen strong anchors” in neighborhoods besieged by gang violence.

Ander said Chicagoans need to stop focusing just on “what the police department does” to fight crime.

“Often, by the time the police are involved, we’ve missed multiple opportunities to prevent or intervene to ensure violent crime doesn’t happen,” Ander said. “We know definitively that getting a kid to stay in school long enough to get a high school diploma has a causal link to reducing the chance of becoming a homicide victim or a perpetrator. That’s one area really ripe for strategic investment. If we keep kids in school and convince them to get a diploma, we decrease the potential for males [to become homicide victims] by 50 percent compared to a high school dropout. If they even start college, they’re one-sixth as likely.”

Though Chicago’s battle against gang violence has made international headlines, Ander said it’s “not the only city struggling with violence and school dropouts.” Nor does Chicago have the highest homicide rate. Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia have higher murder rates, she said.

“The way Chicago is going about this will inform Chicago and help us figure out what kinds of programs are giving us the greatest impact and need to be scaled up,” Ander said. “But it will also be important to other cities that don’t have the answers yet. Chicago is getting a lot of attention, but other cities are struggling more than we are.”

A promising sophomore at King College Prep, Pendleton was shot in the back Jan. 29 while hanging out with friends at a park a few blocks from the school and less than a mile from Obama’s Kenwood mansion. Her murder shined another unflattering international spotlight on Chicago. Pendleton was an honors student, a volleyball player and a majorette who had just performed with her high school band at festivities tied to Obama’s second-inauguration. And she lost her life to the same type of gang violence that she’d condemned in a 2008 public service video.

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