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Business District Leadership Program Graduates New Cohort

Annie Grossinger


Whoops, hollers and the shouts of nicknames permeated the Community Room at Harold Washington College as the second class of the Business District Leadership (BDL) Program graduated.

Eighteen community leaders working at organizations supporting neighborhood-based economic development and small business development from across the city, with a variety of experience levels and backgrounds, received their certificates which cemented a year of intensive learning and collaboration. Instead of marking the end, however, it signified the beginning as each will return to their neighborhood and implement a Neighborhood Change Project developed during their participation in BDL

Five graduates were awarded micro grants, supported by Groupon Chicago, to help propel their Neighborhood Change Projects. The BDL Groupon micro grant recipients are:

  • Grand prize winner $5,000 – Tacarra Birmingham (West Humboldt Park Dev. Council) – for Forty Acres Market Day
  • $2,500 winner – Hannah Jones (ICNC) – The Hatchery Job Readiness program
  • $2,500 winner – Greg Carroll (Uptown United) – Taste of Uptown
  • $2,500 winner – Sandra Bivens (51st Street Business Association) – Bronzeville Jazz/Musical festival
  • $2,500 winner – Caroline Connors (Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association) –G019

Tracy Lewis of the Quad Communities Development Corporation is among the 2016 BDL grads.

Annie Grossinger


“It was a competitive process,” said Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “We looked at what would be a lasting impact on the communities overall.”

Projects were graded based, in large part, on feasibility, perceived impact on the community, clarity of budget, and amount of community support.

Birmingham’s project is a 40 Acre Market Day around harvest season, which addresses the food desert in West Humboldt Park. The goal is to help the local economy, promote spaces within the community and teach community members about food and healthy eating and cooking.

Birmingham credits her BDL class with helping refine her project: “The course material is great,” she said, “but working with others is the best part. I was able to talk to my cohort about projects they had done and learn from their experiences.”

Togetherness was a common theme that arose throughout the year and during graduation. Caroline Connors, the class valedictorian, stated that the BDL Program “has given me the invaluable opportunity to meet with extraordinary people.”

The 2015 BDL Neighborhood Change Projects

A year after graduating, the 2015 BDL alumni is evaluating the successes of their projects.

Jacqueline Samuel, Ph.D., the senior program director at Claretian Associates and a 2015 BDL graduate, created a cultural book for the commercial district in the South Chicago neighborhood that also serves as a portfolio for local artists and a historical memento for the community.


Jackie Samuel, senior program director at Claretian Associates and a 2015 BDL graduate, created a cultural book for the commercial district in the South Chicago neighborhood that also serves as a portfolio for local artists and a historical memento for the community.

Gordon Walek


“I asked myself, how can I do a change project that impacts both violence and poverty issues?” said Samuel. She noticed the growth of public arts in the community and saw this as an opportunity. So, she sourced a photographer to interview artists and worked with kids to map the cultural movement in the neighborhood. “It became a way to really integrate a positive, show growth in community and keep youth engaged in our community,” she said.

The ensuing book is now available for purchase. “It’s my talking tool,” said Samuel. I use the book whenever talking to people who have an interest in the community.” 

It’s one piece of an ongoing cultural revitalization that she hopes for the neighborhood. “I really want to get people to see the cultural asset of this community,” she said. “We have so many artists with so many talents to give. How do I boost that?”

Samuel sits on the board of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. Her experience with the BDL Program was powerful enough that she recommended it to the executive director, Dan Lira, who was among the 2016 graduates.


Jamie di Paulo, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and a 2015 BDL grad, established a low-interest and easy-to-qualify loan program to improve facades along the 26th Street commercial corridor.

Gordon Walek


Jamie di Paulo, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, was among Samuels’ 2015 graduating class. His project was to create a low-interest and easy-to-qualify loan program to improve facades along the 26th Street commercial corridor. After securing a partnership with The Private Bank, 20 local businesses qualified for a loan.

“Stores are looking better now and it’s taking off,” said di Paulo. “People are redoing facades without asking for money or resources.”

His goal is to expand, using new partnerships, including a rebate program, and more stores. Eventually, he would like to work with local businesses to create a standardized look and feel in order to preserve the integrity of the corridor. “It’s about the community,” he said.

“The best thing about LISC Chicago’s BDL program is the network you create,” he said. “I might be the expert on facades but someone else might be the expert on restaurants or loans.”

Post BDL Graduation

As the number of neighborhood organizations with expertise in economic development increases, LISC Chicago is looking to the future. According to Harte, “It’s not over after graduation. A big part of the work is to continue to collaborate and create opportunities where people can continue peer-to-peer learning.”

Posted in Economic Development

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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