Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Kathleen Murphy, Director of Communications, Forefront

It’s no secret that Microsoft Chicago loves Forefront. Our own Shelley Stern is on its board, and we’ve spotlighted Forefront on our blog, our social media channels, and more over the past few years. The organization, previously called Donors Forum, is Illinois’ only regional association for both nonprofits and foundations, where organizations that provide social impact can garner support through financial contributions, consultation, and outreach.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Kathleen Murphy, Forefront’s Director of Communications, to discuss Forefront’s growth. The two focus on IL Give, a campaign to increase individual giving to Illinois charitable organizations.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Kathleen live on Advisor.TV.

Round 2: CUTGroup Detroit

Back at it with one civic user test already under the belt, on February 2nd, the CUTGroup Detroit crew convened for another round of civic user testing with Detroit residents at Motor City’s premier business innovation hub, TechTown Detroit. Partnering with Detroit Ledger, a philanthropic organization that provides data about grants given to different Detroit organizations (particularly nonprofits), for our second go-around, the CUTGroup team proctored user tests built around the usability and functionality of the Detroit Ledger website. The goal of the testing was to determine the ease of use around locating information about Community Development Block Grants and to determine what changes can be implemented to improve the usability and functionality of the website.

After prepping our testing location with an array of snacks (warning: if you are attempting to lose weight, do not become a CUTGroup tester!) and setting up our testing stations, we launched our first series of tests at 4:00pm. The level of excitement to begin testing was off the charts for both proctors and for Detroit citizens! The first unit of testers contained a mix of familiar faces from our first CUTGroup test along with a few new faces. After signing in and loading up on snacks, our testers were assigned to one our five outstanding proctors listed below:

The biggest testing rush came during our 4:45pm time slot where we had five testers stationed with our proctors, testing the Detroit Ledger website, and providing insightful feedback. During this huge rush, I took a brief break from my administrative duties to shoot a brief video with my colleague and friend, Dmitri Pivtorak (Digital Strategist, Milo Detroit). After a few failed takes (not used to being in front of the camera) I channeled my inner Denzel Washington and we captured a solid video documenting our civic user testing experience.

After our 4:45pm rush, the testing slowed down for about 45 minutes before picking back up around 6:15pm. More new faces showed up for our tests and after the experience with the proctor, they were ecstatic about sharing CUTGroup Detroit with people in their community. One tester took about 20 fliers that she said she will share with her community group.

The second CUTGroup Detroit testing experience was a huge success! We had 75% tester attendance which was a huge surprise considering the blistering cold temperatures that night. We also had a total of five new CUTGroup Detroit testers who all seemed to thoroughly enjoy the testing experience. Our partners Jessica McInchak and Benjamin Chodoroff from the Detroit Ledger were ecstatic about the feedback gathered from the CUTGroup testing experience. Both expressed how the information obtained from the testers will go into directly improving their website and how CUTGroupDetroit gave them the platform to conduct the most user testing they have ever had on their website.

On behalf of the entire CUTGroup Detroit team, I would like to send a big thank you to all of the community testers that came out that night. Your persistence and passion for improving Detroit’s civic tech ecosystem is self-evident. The feedback you all provided is priceless and we appreciate your commitment to improving civic tech. We would also like to send a big thank you to all CUTGroup Detroit testers who are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to participate. CUTGroup Detroit is impossible without all of you. We appreciate your patience and hope to host you at one of the CUTGroup tests soon.

Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to the Detroit Ledger. It was a pleasure working with your organization to plan a successful second CUTGroup Detroit test; we hope the feedback garnered from the test lead to an enhanced platform and ultimately enhancing civic technology in Detroit.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Darlene Hightower, Associate Vice President, Community Engagement And Practice, Rush Medical Center

How can we leverage healthcare to build our local communities? At Rush Medical Center, that’s a priority, not just as an academic hospital, but also as a facility that directly contributes to Chicago’s thriving community.

Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods features Darlene Hightower, Associate Vice President, Community Engagement And Practice, Rush Medical Center. Together, they discuss Rush Medical Center’s focus on building the Chicago community by working on the affordable care act, the anchor mission strategy, and total health collaborative.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Darlene live now on

Civic Tech in Chicago — February’s Top Events

Love may be in the air this February, but around Microsoft Chicago, civic tech is in the air every day. Join us at these events around the metro area this month to stay engaged:

February 2, 9, 16, 23, 30

Chicago Women Developers Weekly Hack Night
1871 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, 12th Floor, Chicago

This weekly event gives ladies a space to code together. Whether you’re just getting started, or are a veteran in the tech world, there’s a seat for you at the table. BYOL: Bring your own laptop!

February 5

1919 Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship Demo Day IV & Spring Informational
Blue 1647 Tech Innovation Center 1647 South Blue Island Avenue, Chicago

Our 4th round of cohorts have graduated and are excited to present their final projects! The ladies of 1919 will display the skills they have learned to family, friends and all who attend. It will be a celebration of skill development for the 75 women who have completed their 12 weeks of learning.

February 8

Chicago SQL Server User Group – February 2017 Meeting
Aon Center | Microsoft Technology Center 200 East Randolph Drive, Suite 200, Chicago

Azure SQL Database is a relational database service in the Microsoft cloud-based Microsoft SQL Server engine and capable of handling mission-critical workloads. SQL Database delivers predictable performance at multiple service levels, dynamic scalability with no downtime, built-in business continuity, and data protection with near-zero administration. SQL Database is based on the SQL Server engine, SQL Database supports existing SQL Server tools, libraries, and APIs, making SQL Server to Azure SQL migrations easy. Learn what it takes to manage, administer, monitor, develop with Azure SQL Database. Also how you can migrate your SQL Server to Azure SQL Database.

February 9

Cleantech University Prize 2017 – Midwest Showcase
Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation 1452 East 53rd Street, Chicago

Clean Energy Trust will showcase eight of the most innovative and promising university-based cleantech companies in the Midwest for a chance to win the Department of Energy’s Cleantech University Prize.

February 16

Dashboard in a Day – Power BI Workshop
Aon Center | Microsoft Technology Center 200 East Randolph Drive, Suite 200, Chicago

Dashboard in a Day (DIAD) is a training event that Softweb Solutions is hosting in collaboration with Microsoft to educate professionals on how they can use Power BI in their businesses.

The workshop is meant for beginners as well as users with intermediate level skills and the goal is to give all the attendees a solid foundational knowledge of Power BI and a working dashboard of their data.

February 22

Design for Sustainability
Mightybytes 4001 N. Ravenswood, Suite 404, Chicago

The internet is becoming the world’s largest source of CO2 emissions. 560,000 agencies around the world make daily design decisions on behalf of their clients, directly impacting internet sustainability. By applying sustainability principles to the process of designing digital products and services, we can make better decisions on behalf of people and planet. Come hear Tim Frick – author of Designing for Sustainability – as he outlines strategies to make sustainability an integral part of your product design and development. He’ll also discuss a design framework for sustainability and tactics to implement in day to day digital work to keep sustainability in the forefront of the process.

February 22-25

Adler Planetarium Mardi Gras Celebration
Adler Planetarium 1300 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

Dust off your spacesuit. It’s time to celebrate Mars-di Gras!

While the commonly-known Earthly festivities of Mardi Gras bring street festivals, masquerades, merriment, and lots of colorful beads to cities around the world, the Adler takes the festivities one giant step forward—TO SPACE!

We’re saying goodbye to Earth and heading to Mars for an out-of-this-world event. Following the success of last year’s inaugural event, the Adler super krewe is organizing another Mars-di Gras extravaganza.

Once again, we will bring the beads, band, and the science to this carnival of fun. You’ll be transported to the Red Planet, masquerade as the first Martians and experience first-hand what it would be like to live, work, and play on Mars.

February 24

Science Is Cool Conference
Malcolm X College 1900 West Jackson Boulevard Conference Center, Chicago

The Science is Cool Conference is an initiative of the Pipeline to Careers in Healthcare, Predominantly Black Institution Grant, at Malcolm X College. It is a bi-annual conference that specifically targets 5th through 8th grade African American students from Chicago area schools. As a premier student based conference, Science is Cool is a unique opportunity because it promotes, demystifies, and raises students exposure to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

February 28

What the Heck are Bots?
Northwestern Knight Lab Fisk Hall, 1845 Sheridan Rd, Evanston

Instead of R2D2 and BB-8, most of the bots people talk about these days don’t have a body. Come “talk” to some “intelligent agents” and discuss what their value might be.

In the Knight Lab’s “What the Heck is …?” series, you’ll get a chance to try new technologies and be part of a conversation about the cultural implications they may have.

Residential Property Analysis: Motor City Mapping

The economic turmoil in the city of Detroit has devastated the housing market. Over the years, the conditions of many homes across the city have slowly eroded from dense, stable neighborhoods to blighted, barely-habitable structures. As buildings and neighborhoods have deteriorated, more families have vacated their homes in pursuit of destinations with more opportunity. This has left many architecturally-sound homes that are in good condition, unoccupied due to the “blight” of the surrounding environment.

In order to change the narrative that is taking place with the residential housing market in different Detroit communities, Data Driven Detroit (D3) and LOVELAND joined forces to develop the Motor City Mapping project (MCM), conducting the largest public data collection initiative in the history of Detroit. With the support of Rock Ventures, The Kresge Foundation, The Skillman Foundation, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, JP Morgan Chase, Michigan Nonprofit Association, and other amazing organizations, D3 hired over 200 Detroit resident surveyors to conduct a parcel by parcel survey of Detroit properties using LOVELAND’S mobile surveying application.

With hard work, diligence, and in the snowiest winter in Detroit’s recorded history, the team collected data from approximately 380,000 structures in Detroit, ranging from the condition of the structure to the occupancy of the structure. The cumulative efforts of the different parties lead to the development and launch of the Motor City Mapping online website which displays a map of the different Detroit properties by neighborhood with an in-depth breakdown of the structures in each community. The goal of the MCM portal was to create a comprehensive database of detailed information including the condition of each and every property of Detroit that would allow policy makers/community organizers to make analytical decision making when it comes to the redevelopment of different Detroit communities.

The research conducted by these different parties is the basis of my PowerBI presentation titled: MCM Residential Property Analysis. Using the 2009 Detroit Residential Parcel Survey (DRPS) dataset (details the information about the residential properties surveyed in 2009) and the 2014 MCM dataset (details the information about same residential properties surveyed in 2009, along with commercial properties), both extracted from Data Driven Detroit, I created visualizations using Microsoft’s PowerBI to compare the changes in residential properties for both years. The objective of this analysis was to determine how the residential housing stock in the city has changed from 2009 to 2014 and to offer some innovative strategies that the city of Detroit could apply to rebuild the housing market.


The visual above displays information comparing the changes in Detroit residential properties from 2009 to 2014. Table 1.1 (Top-Left) shows detailed information about each residential property surveyed in both years, comparing the changes in the housing conditions. Information in this table includes the properties’ address, neighborhood, the property condition 2009, the property condition in 2014, and the whether or not the property has improved, declined, or maintained condition. Table 1.2 (Top-Right) displays the total amount of homes that have maintained, improved, or have declined in condition rating between the initial survey in 2009 and the most recent survey in 2014. According to the data, 190,876 homes have maintained condition, 26,508 homes have declined, and 17,425 homes have improved from 2009 to 2014.

The four graphs on the bottom of this visual display the conditional changes of all the residential properties surveyed from 2009 to 2014.  Graph 1.3 (Bottom-Left) shows in 2009, 1,468 homes were suggested for demolition (the worst condition rating) compared to 2014 where 4,042 homes were suggested to be demolished (an increase of 2,574 residential properties). Table 1.4 (2nd from left) shows that in 2009, 5,992 residential properties were in poor condition compared to 2014 where 8041 properties were determined to be in a similar condition (an increase of 2,049 residential properties). Table 1.5 (3rd from left) shows that in 2009, 21,357 homes were determined to be in fair condition compared to 2014 where 27,546 homes were in a similar state (an increase of 6,189 residential properties). Table 1.6 (Bottom-Right) shows that in 2009, 205,996 homes were measured to be in good condition compared to 2014 where 203,992 homes were determined in a similar state (decrease of 2,004 residential properties).

The data from these different charts show that the quality of residential properties has declined since 2009. More homes have declined than have improved since 2009, showing (as most Detroiters know) that there is much more to accomplish in order to improve the housing market. One of the biggest statistics that jumps out to me is the increase of homes suggested for demolition from 2009 to 2014. The number of homes basically tripled in this housing condition state, showing the severity of the housing decline from 2009 to 2014.


The second visual posted above displays more information from the MCM data, with a detailed focus on residential properties by neighborhood. Table 2.1 (Top-Left) is a slicer tool that contains the different neighborhoods surveyed in the MCM dataset. When selecting a checkbox (or checkboxes) for the displayed neighborhoods, the information in the other tables related to the selected neighborhoods are highlighted. Below is an example of using this tool when selecting the neighborhoods Conner, Denby, and Tireman (To reference the Master Plan Neighborhoods mentioned in this dataset, click here).


Table 2.2 (second from left) is a treemap that displays the number of properties that have declined in condition by neighborhood. The five neighborhoods where the most residential properties declined were:

  1. Tireman (1,417)
  2. Conner (1,274)
  3. Mt. Olivet (1,254)
  4. Mackenzie (1,167)
  5. Harmony Village (1,105).

Table 2.3 (Top-Right) shows the number of residential properties that are in poor and suggest demolition conditions by neighborhood. The five neighborhoods with the most homes in these conditions were:

  1. Tireman (806)
  2. Conner (696)
  3. Davison (534)
  4. Chadsey (485)
  5. Brighmoor (463)

Table 2.3 (Bottom-Left) shows the number of unoccupied homes by neighborhood in 2014. This table includes the name of the different neighborhoods and the number of structures unoccupied by number of housing units. This table could be used to build neighborhood redevelopment strategies based on the number of unoccupied residential units. For example, there are large amounts of unoccupied single unit homes in nearly all of the surveyed neighborhoods, which would be ideal for young couples and single parent families. To attract individuals to live in these neighborhoods, strategies should be implemented to make these particular neighborhoods more attractive to small families including making these homes more affordable, as well as injecting these communities with after-hour establishments for the entertainment of young couples, parks/community centers for parents to take their children, and other institutions.

Table 2.4 (Bottom-Middle) displays details about the different homes that have fire damage according to the 2014 survey. This table includes the property’s address, zip code, unit type, neighborhood, and the current condition of the property. Table 2.5 (Bottom-right) shows information on the number of homes that needed boarding by neighborhood in 2014. The five communities that have the most properties in need of boarding were:

  1. Conner (1,617)
  2. Tireman (1,428)
  3. Mackenzie (1,248)
  4. Burbank (1,195)
  5. Mt. Olivet (1,163)

The tables presented in this visual show the Detroit neighborhoods that should be focal points when it comes rebuilding the residential housing market in the Motor City based on the declining conditions of residential properties. The common trend I see in three of the five tables is with the neighborhoods of Conner and Tireman. These two communities have the highest number of declining residential properties, the most residential properties in poor/suggested demolition condition, and the largest number of residential properties that need boarding. These are definitely two communities where additional intervention is required.

One program that generates great optimism in regards to the Detroit residential housing market is the Detroit Neighborhood Initiative. Established by the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), Bank of America, Opportunity Resource Fund, and the City of Detroit, this outstanding collaborative makes home ownership a reality through the creation of a remarkable mortgage program designed to make residential housing more affordable for prospective Detroit homeowners. I believe this initiative will have a profound impact on the Detroit housing market. This program offers the following benefits to citizens that sign-up:

  • No down payment
  • No closing costs
  • No fees
  • Below market fixed rates (3.5% – 30 year / 2.875% – 15 year)
  • 30 year – One percent of mortgage permanently reduces rate by .25% to virtually zero
  • 15 year – One percent of mortgage permanently reduces rate by .50% to virtually zero
  • Available on all property types: new, existing, single to four families, condo
  • Credit Score never considered in mortgage process
  • Homebuyers individual payment history utilized
  • Underwriting done by NACA

Including renovation funding in the mortgage will play a huge role in improving the quality of housing in the Detroit area. Before the creation of this program, obtaining renovation funding to improve housing was a huge barrier for prospective homeowners. Mortgages can only be issued for the appraised value of a house, but due to the low values of residential sales ($10,000, for example), individuals are unable to finance renovations when buying a house as costs exceed $50,000 in some cases. Including renovation funding with the Detroit Neighborhood Initiative bypasses this barrier giving prospective homeowners the power to invest in the homes they desire to purchase while sequentially rebuilding the residential housing market through the renovation funding poured into the property.

Pairing the MCM dataset with the Detroit Neighborhood Initiative would be a great strategy to track home improvement and to also formulate blueprints toward rebuilding the residential housing market. Knowing the communities with deteriorating residential properties along with the specific details about the infrastructure of each property would give more insight to urban planners and community advocates looking to strengthen community stability. While other strategies and efforts must be ignited to help improve housing in Detroit, the Motor City Mapping dataset, and Detroit Neighborhood initiative serve as two beacons of hope for restoring Detroit’s residential housing market.

To view and interact with the MCM PowerBI visualization, click here.

Civic Tech in Chicago — January’s Top Events


2017 is here and we’re ready to dive head-first back into civic tech. Join us as we work toward another incredible year, starting with these top picks for events in January:

January 4

Chicago City Data User Group: Data and the Environmental Defense Fund
Microsoft Technology Center Chicago | Aon Center 200 E. Randolph Ste 200, Chicago

The mission of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is quite simple: We work to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.  Climate, energy, oceans, human health, and the policy that impacts it all – all within the scope of the research and advocacy of the EDF.  EDF has a special take on environmental issues – they are interested in creating solutions that also carry economic benefits.

Of course, all of this requires data.  And ideally, it contributes new data and insights.  Come hear Ellen Bell discuss the work of the EDF.  Ellen manages the Redefining Energy Efficiency Project.

January 10

DePaul’s Employer Workshop Series: Leveraging Alumni for Recruitment

The Employer Workshop Series is brought to you by DePaul’s Employer and Internship Development Team. This free series of events offers our employer partners the opportunity to think strategically about their recruiting and hiring processes, learn new ways to enhance their recruiting efforts and network and exchange ideas with other organizations.

Chi Hack Night
Braintree office 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza 8th Floor, Chicago

The Chi Hack Night is a free, weekly event in Chicago to build, share and learn about civic tech and tools to create, support, or serve public good.
Join us every Tuesday from 6-10pm on the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart to hear from interesting speakers, learn from each other and work on civic projects. Non-techies are very welcome!

January 12

ThoughtWorks Chicago: Build Your Own Radar
ThoughtWorks 200 East Randolph St. 25th Floor, Chicago

Chef or Ansible? Learn React Native or jump into Swift? Which techniques are hot and which are not?

Join ThoughtWorks for a night of food, drink, and mingling as we explore how technologists can grapple with these questions and make smart choices about the tools, techniques, frameworks, and languages they use in their projects.

Our speakers will talk about the themes behind the ThoughtWorks Technology Radar, which compiles years of experience across different domains to provide well thought-out opinions on many of the trends that are coming and going today. You’ll finish off the night by learning how to build your own radar and how to use it as a tool to help you and your projects.

January 17

Blue 1647 1647 S. Blue Island, Chicago

Are you a veteran or college student? Maybe a high school junior or senior with an interest in a future in computer technology? Compete in a day-long hackathon to win prizes – no experience necessary. Also, learn about cybersecurity jobs in the Chicago area and new cyber programs at City Colleges of Chicago.

Chi Hack Night
Braintree office 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza 8th Floor, Chicago

The Chi Hack Night is a free, weekly event in Chicago to build, share and learn about civic tech and tools to create, support, or serve public good.
Join us every Tuesday from 6-10pm on the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart to hear from interesting speakers, learn from each other and work on civic projects. Non-techies are very welcome!

January 24

Illinois Campaign Contributions: Is the Sky the Limit?
The Flats at East-West University 829 South Wabash Avenue 4th Floor Auditorium, Chicago

Please join ICPR for an open discussion with experts on 2016 campaign spending in Illinois and how it compares to other states.

Chi Hack Night
Braintree office 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza 8th Floor, Chicago

The Chi Hack Night is a free, weekly event in Chicago to build, share and learn about civic tech and tools to create, support, or serve public good.
Join us every Tuesday from 6-10pm on the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart to hear from interesting speakers, learn from each other and work on civic projects. Non-techies are very welcome!

Adler Planetarium: Behind the scenes
Adler Planetarium 1300 S Lake Shore Dr Chicago

Curators and educators at Adler Planetarium take us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the cosmology museum and the Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy.
Head Curator Pedro Raposo and staff will present some of the rare artifacts that are kept in museum’s collections and discuss the history and care of artifacts. The remainder of the session will develop as a conversation between science writers and curators about the stories that may be told.

January 31

Chi Hack Night
Braintree office 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza 8th Floor, Chicago

The Chi Hack Night is a free, weekly event in Chicago to build, share and learn about civic tech and tools to create, support, or serve public good.
Join us every Tuesday from 6-10pm on the 8th floor of the Merchandise Mart to hear from interesting speakers, learn from each other and work on civic projects. Non-techies are very welcome!

Year in Review: 2016 in Civic Tech


What a year 2016 was! From implementing computer science as a graduation requirement in Chicago’s schools to the Cubs winning a world series, we’ve stayed on our toes as new, exciting things continue to transform our community.

A look back at an amazing year on the Microsoft Chicago Blog:


Big Shoulders: Billy Banks, Associate Director of The Garage at Northwestern University

Academic accelerators are the next big thing and Northwestern University is jumping on the band wagon with the creation of The Garage. Billy Banks, Associate Director of The Garage at Northwestern University, discussed with Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman this venture in inspiring students and professors to explore entrepreneurship.

Kevin Wei_FellowFellow Profile: Kevin Wei

Every year, we gain an incredible cohort of civic technology fellows who inspire us through their hard work and dedication to utilize technology in local government and community applications. With each step forward our fellows make, we help make Chicago more interconnected through technology. Meet one of them, Kevin Wei.


10Voices Of Change — #LookUp! Space is Freaking Awesome
Michelle B. Larson, President and CEO, Adler Planetarium 

Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we were honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women. One of those women is Michelle B. Larson, President and CEO at Adler Planetarium.


Opti_UChicago_Illustration1Opti RTC: Managing Sustainability at UChicago

Our Azure partner Opti uses new technology approaches to managing stormwater and sewage runoff. Through smart green infrastructure monitoring, Opti has built a new monitoring system at UChicago that gathers data on water and helps manage runoff for better infrastructure.

How the Internet of Things can Prevent Bullying
Shelley Stern Grach

As part of our ongoing partnership with Lake View High School, an Early College STEM School in Chicago, Microsoft supports the Illinois Science & Technology Institute’s STEM Challenge, where students at 19 Illinois high schools address real-world problems in partnership with 10 industry and academic partners. While at one of their brainstorming mentoring sessions, Shelley Stern Grach met with students using IoT to combat bullying.


ITKAN teams up with Microsoft and Directions to deliver SQL Server/Business Intelligence training!
Adam Hecktman and Pat Maher

ITKAN, a professional organization affiliated with the Illinois Technology Foundation, whose mission is to develop passionate IT professionals with disabilities, partnered with Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team in Chicago, as well as Directions – a nationwide leader in IT, business and enterprise training solutions and one of only 12 Microsoft Gold Managed Learning partners – to train and secure professional positions for a class of (6) ITKAN members.

Mayor's Office for People With DisabilitiesMaking Chicago The Most Accessible City in the Nation
Karen Tamley, Commissioner, Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD)

“Making Chicago The Most Accessible City in the Nation” is the tag line and mission of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) where Karen Tamley serves as Commissioner. She highlighted MOPD’s work and took time reflect on how far our city, our nation and her life experience has changed for the better.


CaptureIntroducing the DigiSeniors Program
Kevin Wei, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

The Microsoft Chicago Civic Engagement and Retail Store teams were hard at work with the leading individuals and agencies of the City of Chicago to develop a curriculum to help senior citizens get the basic digital skills, access and safety knowledge that they need to keep up with the ever-evolving technology world. After nearly a year’s worth of development, feedback, pilot sessions, Microsoft Chicago was happy to announce the launch of the DigiSeniors curriculum.

PowerBI Visualization: Community takes Commitment
Ivoire Morrell, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

In the first of a three-part series on Detroit Crime statistics, causes and potential solutions, Microsoft’s Civic Tech Fellow Ivoire Morrell shared a powerful story of the history, economic impact and future narratives of Detroit’s most economically depressed communities. It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on the raw data, and illustrating the impact on Detroiters, that we can together build a stronger future.


ew_incubatorUncovering Advanced Science, Technology, and Startups at the University of Illinois Research Park
Adam J. Hecktman

Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman toured University of Illinois Research Park, where both enterprise companies and startups bask in the glow of advanced science and research. Laura Freichs, the Director of Research Park, guided him on a tour and meeting with researchers.


2016-11-11The Character of the American Veteran: My Project RELO Experience
Adam J. Hecktman

Project RELO is a non-profit that brings business leaders together with veterans on a multi-day series of “missions” on a military base. For a short three days, business leaders live what can only be described as a glimpse of the military experience. Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman attended and witnessed the kind of deep professional education, personal development, character building and intellectual challenges that have defined their military careers.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: PJ Karafiol, Interim Principal at Lake View High School

As part of our commitment to STEM and technology, we’re thankful to partner with local schools in Chicago that are embracing technology in their curricula and day-to-day processes. One of these schools is Lake View High School (LVHS), one of Chicago’s Early College STEM Schools, which enables students to earn both a high school diploma and college credits. Microsoft Chicago’s Shelley Stern Grach sat down with PJ Karafiol, Lake View High School’s newest interim principal.


python-sh-600x600Learning Python to Celebrate #CSEdWeek
Adam J. Hecktman

The goal of the annual Computer Science Education Week is primarily to inspire students to take the time to learn about computer science, specifically coding. Microsoft Chicago’s Adam J. Hecktman celebrated Computer Science Education Week this year by diving in deep himself and took on the challenge to learn to code with Python.

Thank you to all who joined us in sharing the important stories that shape our community. Let’s work together for an incredible 2017.

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Janet Smith, Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at UIC


At the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), students and faculty alike are working to build a better Chicago. With a focus on urban and community development, Co-Director Janet Smith leads the program in various areas of growth, including housing, transportation, and policy.

In Shelley Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking Our Neighborhoods, she sits down with Janet Smith to discuss the work being done at the Voorhees Center and how we can help improve Chicago together.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Janet live on

SWC Technology Partners, Microsoft and Alain Locke Charter School Partner to Spread Good Cheer this Holiday Season


SWC Technology Partners, a Midwest business-technology consultancy and IT solution provider, has partnered with Microsoft and Alain Locke Charter School to spread cheer this season to local professionals and holiday shoppers alike in Oak Brook, IL. Fifty students from Alain Locke Charter School’s All-Star Choir and Band travelled from their campus in Chicago’s East Garfield Park to Oak Brook for a performance of holiday songs at SWC Technology Partners headquarters followed by an encore at the Microsoft Store at Oakbrook Center for staff and customers to enjoy.

“It was a very warm, and cheerful event — especially with a surprise visit from Santa himself,” said Megan Wright, Community Development Specialist at Microsoft. “The students all enjoyed a technology scavenger hunt and received goodie bags. Special thanks to our friends at SWC and the talented students at Alain Locke. We hope to do this again next year!”

SWC has partnered with Alain Locke Charter School since 2011 on initiatives to enhance the lives of the students, providing hardware and IT expertise to progress the school’s educational technology and infrastructure, ensuring Alain Locke stays competitive with today’s scholastic demands. SWC has also become part of the school community by participating in various fundraising and volunteering activities throughout year.

LISC Chicago, City of Chicago and Community Partners Launch Southwest Corridor Collaborative


Last month, LISC Chicago, LISC’s national CEO Maurice Jones, Mayor Emanuel, the City of Chicago and our community partners the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and Teamwork Englewood, announced the Southwest Corridor Collaborative (SWCC). This partnership between government, community organizations and businesses is taking a targeted people and place-based approach to economic development.

LISC Chicago has an established reputation in the city for developing and delivering a community development methodology that meaningfully engages residents and stakeholders in setting a vision for their neighborhood and implementing that vision through aligned programs and investments. Through SWCC, LISC will bring that methodology and approach and build a focused economic development strategy to the south and southwest side communities. LISC’s intent is to document and learn from SWCC in order to replicate the work in other cross-community commercial corridors in the city.

LISC has been committed to these communities for the last 36 years. We have supported capacity building in the neighborhood organizations, community planning, special programs and real estate lending. The SWCC came out of one of LISC Chicago’s foundational investments, Quality-of-Life Planning, which Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chicago Southwest created 10 years ago and are currently completing their second community-led visions for their future.

We are recommitting for another decade to continue to build capacity and deepen our efforts on economic development. LISC’s commitment to the SWCC includes seed funding this effort to cover capacity building and support at our neighborhood partner organizations and $50M in lending for investments in real estate and local neighborhood businesses targeted as part of this initiative.

SWCC is a collaborative effort focused on creating living wage jobs through physical, human and business investment. These geographic areas of focus are along 63rd Street from Cottage Grove to Pulaski and incorporating key nodes along Halsted and 79th Street to produce data-informed but community-led strategies to leverage the investments needed to achieve the goal of job creation. Investments will be made in real estate, housing, small businesses, transit and employment opportunities.

SWCC will approach neighborhood led economic development planning, implementation and investments guided by the following priorities:

  • Job Creation: Identifying strategic industries to locate/expand in the target area that will provide living wage job opportunities.
  • Infrastructure: Preparing physical locations within communities for business/job attraction and expansion. Assemble land to develop into project-ready commercial locations. Secure sufficient broadband, wireless and utility service capacity at existing and new properties that appropriately meets the needs of targeted industry sectors. Guide and finance transportation improvements (roads, sidewalks, public transit) to meet business and workforce needs.
  • Connecting Residents to Jobs: Preparing and connecting residents to living wage job opportunities through household financial stability; skills development to build a talent pipeline for middle skill jobs; and partnerships with large employers and job placement agencies to connect residents to quality jobs.
  •  Supporting Entrepreneurship: Establishing a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem to catalyze business startups and expansions. This will include capital access – loans, grants and equity deployed through local partnerships; developing affordable and project-ready spaces in the area; partnerships with business and financial mentors; linkages to sales relationships with anchor institutions in partnership with World Business Chicago and others; and, investments supports like incubators, accelerators and other direct assistance to neighborhood entrepreneurs.
  • Investment: SWCC will organize/create a navigable process for a full-suite of products and incentives to attract businesses and other investment to the area. This will include innovative use of LISC resources including grants, loans and equity as well as identifying and facilitating city and state resources, collaborating with other partners and leveraging direct investments from private financial institutions.

The outcomes we will achieve are simple. More jobs, more investment, more businesses and more people living and working in the neighborhoods.

I want to thank our committed SWCC partners which include: Ald. Foulkes, 16th Ward; Ald. Moore, 17th Ward; Chicago Cares; Comcast; Community Investment Corporation (CIC); Cook County Land Bank; The National Equity Fund; The PrivateBank; Urban Partnership Bank; US Bank; and, World Business Chicago. Of particular note is the Community Investment Corporation’s commitment of $10M in lending for housing investments.

To learn more about the initiative you can read the Crain’s Chicago Business article or check out DNAInfoChicago’s story. View photos from the announcement here.

If you are interested in joining us a SWCC partner, please contact Caroline Goldstein at or 312-422-9556 or Phillip Moore at or 312-422-9555.

meghan-harte_headshotMeghan Harte serves as the executive director of the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). A national leader in comprehensive community development, LISC Chicago’s mission is to connect neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.