West Side policy expert named game-changer

Photo credit: Norvell Tolbert. Left to Right: Angelique Orr, Mark Ferguson, Valerie F. Leonard, Rodney Brown, Dr. Dennis Deer.

Valerie Leonard was honored by the New Covenant Community Development Corporation

We thank the Austin Weekly News for their coverage of the New Covenant CDC Game Changers Award Dinner. The following article appeared in the November 2nd issue of the newspaper.



By Igor Studenkov
Contributing Reporter

Long-time North Lawndale community activist and community development consultant Valerie Leonard received the first-ever Game Changer in Community Service Award on the evening of Oct. 27.

This was one of the several awards that were given out by the Homan Square-based New Covenant Community Development Corporation at its third annual Game Changers for Economic Impact gala.

The event was held in Austin’s Columbus Park Rectory, 5701 W Jackson.

The awards usually go to innovative North Lawndale businesses, but this year, the NCCDC decided to add an award to recognize those who work hard to improve the community. As the NCCDC officials readily admitted, there was never any real question as to who this year’s recipient would be.

Leonard has been working to help North Lawndale for the past few decades. According to the bio on her official website, she founded the Lawndale Alliance, which has advocated for school improvements, fairer Tax Increment Financing fund usage and aid to homeowners affected by the 2008 mortgage crisis, among other initiatives.

Most recently, Leonard became one of the three co-founders of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, which is working to create a comprehensive development plan for the North Lawndale community.

Dennis Deer, a fellow NLCCC co-founder, serves as a NCCDC’s president. As he explained in the opening remarks during the gala, the organization has been around since 2012. The money raised from the gala, Deer said, will allow NCCDC to offer classed provided by its Small Business Development Center for free.

“[The center] provides small business consulting services, business advisory,” Deer said. “We teach people who desire their own businesses how to have them. [The program includes] entrepreneurship classes, one-on-one advising [and] consulting services.”

NCCDC also launched the North Lawndale Chamber of Commerce. Deer said it wasn’t the first time someone tried to create one, but this one has survived the challenges so far, and he was optimistic about its future.

“We have 15 to 20 members already who are having a unified voice in the development of the community,” he said.

As NCCDC director Angelique Orr explained during the gala, the Game Changers awards are meant to do more than recognize local businesses.

“Every year, we have an opportunity to celebrate exceptional entrepreneurs,” she said. “They’re there to change game and they’re game-changers. You stepped out of nothing and made something happened – you changed the game.”

Deer said that NCCDC wanted to give Leonard an award to recognize how she changed the community, even though she isn’t a business owner.

“[We gave her the award] because of all the work she’s done in community organizing and community advancement,  all of the work she did in order to [create] a better community,” he said. “She is very, very deserving of those accolades, even though she doesn’t like them very much.”

NCCDC Vice-President Rodney Brown offered his own praise.

“She has the hart and passion for making sure things get done for the people who need it,” he said of Leonard. Deer said that Leonard wasn’t told she was getting the award until she arrived at the gala. When she came up to the podium, she found herself at a loss of words.

“I’m having an Oprah moment,” she said. “I’m speechless.”

The procession of honors for Leonard, however, won’t end with NCCDC. On Nov. 2, she’ll be recognized by the Chicago Chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance for her work in social enterprise during a session held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Sankofa House, 4041 W. Roosevelt Rd.

Entrepreneurs who won the awards this year included Katros Consulting firm founder and CEO Lynn Sutton; Landon Williams and Jason Diggs, co-owners of Against the Grain Designs accessories maker; Elliot Porter, owner of the Grade A Car Spa car wash; and Michelle Sharp, owner of the It’s-Sooo [sic], an all-natural clearing products company.

Email: igorst3@hotmail.com


Regional Transportation Authority Joins Transit and Transportation Partners to Host 19th Annual Transportation Vendor Symposium and Business Exchange

We thank Hurley Green, III, Publisher of The Bulletin, for sharing the following information.

For Immediate Release


Date:        November 1, 2016

Contact:   Susan Massel, Director, Communications and Public Affairs

312-913-3256 ­ massels@RTAchicago.org


Regional Transportation Authority Joins Transit and Transportation Partners to Host 19th Annual Transportation Vendor Symposium and Business Exchange

Provides information to those seeking transit agency contracts

CHICAGO – The RTA, in collaboration with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra, Pace, Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois Tollway, is proud to host the 19th Annual Transportation Symposium and Business Exchange.  The event will be held on Tuesday, November 15th at the Chicago Cultural Center, Sidney R. Yates Gallery, 78 East Washington Street, Chicago from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for businesses interested in working with local transportation agencies.  There is no cost to attend the event.

“Transit agencies in this region spend billions of dollars annually on goods and services needed to help keep our transportation system moving,” says RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “We are fortunate to work with a variety of businesses every year and see this symposium and business exchange as an opportunity to grow our network of vendors.”

The event is specifically aimed at transit-related businesses including construction companies, professional service firms, manufacturers, architects/engineers and suppliers. Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), Minority Owned Business Enterprises (MBEs), Women Owned Business Enterprises (WBEs), Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) and Small Business Enterprises (SBEs)  are strongly encouraged to attend to obtain valuable information regarding the best way to seek transit agency contracts.

“I know firsthand how helpful this event is,” says George Kinnison, president and founder of  Trinity Technology Services and scheduled event speaker. “I first attended the event 17 years ago and learned a great deal about the processes in place for MBE and DBE certified companies to become vendors in the transit and transportation sectors. Since then, I founded Trinity and, as a DBE, we now provide low voltage bus systems, such as GPS and communications systems, to CTA buses.  Information I gained at this event help make this work possible.”

Advance registration for the event is strongly encouraged. For more information, visit the RTA website at rtachicago.org or visit the symposium and business exchange website at http://illinoistransportationsymposium.com.  Event agenda is attached.


About the RTA

The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) is the only transit agency charged with regional financial oversight, funding, and transit planning for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace bus and paratransit.    The RTA region serves two million riders each weekday in six counties with 7,200 transit route miles throughout Northeastern Illinois.  The Agency also provides customer services including on-line and telephone travel planning assistance and travel training for seniors and people with disabilities.  For more information, visit www.RTAChicago.org.


2016 Press Release TSBE by valeriefleonard on Scribd


Include the West Side in the Community Catalyst Fund

We thank the Austin Weekly News for publishing the following letter to the editor.  Photo credit: Second City Cop Blog.

The Mayor has proposed the new $100 million Community Catalyst Fund designed to invest in businesses in communities that are most in need.  A governing board consisting of the City of Chicago CFO, City Treasurer, Commissioner of Planning and Development, and four mayoral appointees will establish investment criteria and policies with input from an advisory council consisting of two aldermen and three community representatives. The targeted communities and manner in which investment decisions will be made are yet to be determined.

We, the members of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC), support the overall concept of the Community Catalyst Fund, and would encourage the team responsible for the implementation to solicit further input from local communities as the program is finalized. This will only strengthen the program.

NLCCC is a group of North Lawndale stakeholders, including nearly 300 community-based organizations, business owners, elected officials and individuals that have come together to guide our community’s first comprehensive planning and implementation process since 1958.  We believe that there should be representation from Chicago’s West Side on the Community Catalyst Fund (“the Fund”) governing board as well as the advisory council. In times past, the West Side has been excluded from a number of the City’s innovative economic development programs, and we are under-represented on the governing boards for various City commissions. It is important that communities that are in most need also have a voice at the policy level to ensure that programs are responsive and deliver the maximum impact.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to small business development, and every establishment is different. The Fund should take a comprehensive approach that will tap into a variety of public and private resources to provide a broad array of financial products and services to small businesses that are at varying stages of development, from start-up to mature.  Examples include low interest micro-loans, New Markets Tax Credits, mezzanine debt and equity investments with longer investment horizons. At the same time, the Fund should provide funding for community-based CDFI’s (community development financial institutions), SBA-certified Small Business Development Centers and other intermediaries to provide technical assistance to small businesses seeking funding in order to minimize investment risk.

The Fund’s board should develop investment criteria that are more flexible than conventional financing while safeguarding investor capital, and prioritize projects that will create jobs and provide incentives for hiring residents of the communities in which the projects are located. There should also be accountability to ensure that jobs that are promised materialize. Finally, the Fund should consider clustering public works projects to enhance its investments and spur additional private investment in high need areas.

We look forward to an investment fund that will catalyze investment on the West Side, and high-need communities around the City of Chicago.

— North Lawndale Coordinating Committee Exec. Subcommittee

Valerie F. Leonard, Rodney Brown and Dr. Dennis Deer, Members

The Social Enterprise Experience Comes to North Lawndale

The Chicago Chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance to Provide Technical Assistance, Recognize Valerie F. Leonard at Sankofa House

The Chicago Chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance will be providing a technical assistance session and recognizing Valerie F. Leonard for her work in social enterprise on Wednesday, November 2, 2016, from 9:00 am – 11:00 am at the Sankofa House, 4041 West Roosevelt Road.  Annetta Wilson is the Executive Director.  This session is free, and is intended for small businesses, nonprofits and anyone who is interested in social enterprise. Outlined below is a project description.

Do you want to learn how to grow your organization or community using existing resources? Do you want to learn more about resources that are available to you?

Come join us and find out how social entrepreneurship can work for you. The session is brought to you by Social Enterprise Alliance-Chicago Chapter (SEA) and Cook County Commission on Social Innovation

  • Jesus “Chuy” Garcia gives the opening remarks as a charismatic public figure who has advocated for social justice all throughout his career.
  • Mark Mulroe leads off with his extensive experience and talent running a nonprofit/for-profit hybrid with the module “Missions and Models.”
  • Marc J. Lane brings his brilliance in social enterprise law to the second module “Legal Design and Structure.”
  • We will be honoring Valerie F. Leonard for her excellence in social enterprise work!

SEA will close with questions from the audience and time to network and get to know each other.

Michael Hyzy will be moderating the event and taking any questions beforehand.

Refreshments will be provided. We thank Ms. Annetta Wilson, Executive Director of the Sankofa Safe Child Initiative for hosting the event. We also thank the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council for providing promotional support.

Module #1 – Missions and Models 

The missions and models module will survey basic principles of social enterprise, with particular attention to social enterprise missions and models. The module will examine strategic elements that strong missions and robust operational models contribute to the operational unity of fee-based revenue and social purpose. Participants will learn: (1) a framework for conceptualizing social enterprise and differentiating it from purely for-profit and non-profit realms, and (2) lessons instrumental to pivoting toward social enterprise operations and strategies in their own projects.

Module #2 – Legal Design and Structure 

The legal design and structure module will include the key legal, tax and financial considerations in launching and scaling a social enterprise, examining in specific: the selection of the optimal non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid legal structure; Benefit Corporations and L3Cs; mission-related, program-related and other impact investment models; and the maintenance of charitable status for non-profit social ventures.


Know Your Banker

We thank Herman Davis, Regional Vice President for Liberty Bank, for sharing content from The Liberty Line, a publication of Liberty Bank.

There are many pieces to the puzzle when it comes to running a successful business. Often, nothing counts more than having adequate funding. That’s where your banker comes into the picture. The hope of course, is that your small business is in the black and operating at full speed ahead. However, there comes a time even when the most successful business needs additional capital to launch a new product line, expand the physical operations, or purchase additional equipment. There also comes a point when you’ll need your banker to help you through the tough times. So, what’s the best way to make the most of your banking relationship? Here are a few useful tips.

Be Attractive

Your banker needs to know you’re a good risk. Remember, you’re not the only one who’s in business to make a profit. So, make yourself an attractive banking client and communicate that fact to your banker. Know what you need before you walk in the door, whether it’s short-term financing, a term loan, mortgage financing for business or personal property, or other non-loan services.

Your banker is looking for a client that is financially secure and has collateral to back up the loan. Lenders also expect that you’re an expert in whatever business you’re running and that you have talented and capable business people behind you. That also means that if you are a novice, a prospective lender is going to give you a much closer look than a borrower who is experienced in his or her field. No matter your background, bankers will be looking for stable and reputable business people to work with on any given day. They’ll expect a workable business plan and one that will change and evolve as your business does as well.

Don’t Play Hard to Get

In good times and in bad, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with your lender. Make sure to touch base with your bank on a regular basis so your lender knows how your business is doing, even when you’re not in immediate need of financing. It’ll be to your benefit if and when you do have banking needs. Your banker will be more likely to expedite any request if they have a clear and up to the minute picture of your business.

Always have your current financial statements at the ready. You might be surprised to know that your banker will appreciate the effort. Remember, business clients are the bedrock of any financial institution, so make sure you’re an active party in the relationship. If you’ve been contacted by the bank, get back to them ASAP. Small business owners often find it difficult to manage their time, but your banker isn’t the call to put off. When you call them back, have your financial statements and banking statements in front of you.

Be Straightforward

Your banker is certain to be full of questions. And, many business people will take that as a negative sign. But it’s par for the course. So, when you answer any and all financial and personal questions, make sure to say what you mean and mean what you say. In other words, be clear about your needs and your financial picture. Try not to go on the offensive or fall back on a defensive position either. Relax and communicate with your bankers in a straightforward way. They’ll appreciate the approach.

Honesty is the Best Policy

When it comes to banking, it’s always best to be forthcoming with information. When your banker asks for additional financial information about your business or additional details about you, make sure you respond quickly and completely. Don’t be surprised by follow-up questions. The back and forth doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a “no” answer when it comes to your banker. They’re merely doing their job. Also, don’t spring a surprise on the bank. It pays to give your banker a complete and up-to-date picture of your business early and often.

Pay Attention to Your Savings

Don’t use your banker only for business transactions. Most small business owners shortchange themselves when it comes to personal savings. Your banker is there to not only help you when you’re financing your business, they can also assist you in planning for your short term and long-term savings. Whether you’re looking to build an emergency savings account or stash away cash for retirement, there’s a way to go about it all. Your banker can offer up ideas about the approach and the most appropriate investment options available.

Get Some Help

If you’re looking into more complicated investments, then you’ll probably need a bit more help. Most people are not ready, willing, and able to understand the vagaries and complexities of the market on their own. That’s where it pays to talk to professionals. But whatever you decide as far as your personal savings and investing, remember that for most people, a diversified portfolio with a moderate risk strategy is best. If you’re near or close to retirement, then you’ll probably want to consider more conservative and lower risk investment vehicles.

Keep in mind that, although lenders have to follow strict guidelines, they are people first. Keeping your lender in the loop gives him or her the chance to see over time that your company is on solid ground and that you exercise good financial practices. When time is of the essence, having an established relationship may be the difference between getting what you need on time, or being a day late and a dollar short.

Attend the New Covenant CDC Game Changers for Economic Impact Gala

You are Cordially Invited

On October 27, 2016, New Covenant will be hosting its third annual, Game Changers for Economic Impact” Gala to help generate support for its economic development and empowerment initiatives. Currently, New Covenant CDC has experienced success in implementing programs that provide support, instruction, guidance, financial literacy workshops, micro-lending, scholarships and career development programs to aspiring entrepreneurs and other constituents.

To help in these endeavors we are reaching out to you for support.

Please consider partnering with New Covenant CDC to help us to provide with the support needed to bring about economic empowerment, revitalization and stability.

If you are not able to attend, purchasing a ticket will be a wonderful donation.

RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-3rd-annual-game-changers-economic-impact-gala-tickets-27629220743

New Covenant CDC, Sunshine Enterprises West Side Community Business Academy Info Session

When: Thursday, September 22, 2016
Time: 6pm-7pm
New Covenant Community Development Corporation
Where: 1111 S Homan Ave | Chicago, IL 60624
West Side Community Business Academy Cohort begins
When:Thursday September 29, 2016
Where: Sankofa House
4041 W Roosevelt Road | Chicago, IL 60624

Sunshine Enterprises is excited to announce its partnership with New Covenant Community Development Corporation (NCCDC). NCCDC has demonstrated a commitment to theLawndale Community by fostering economic revitalization and financial empowerment. We are excited to join alongside the entrepreneurs of the West Side to further enhance business development!

To learn more about New Covenant CDC’s Work, click here.

More than Basic Business Training:

Sunshine Enterprises takes a comprehensive approach to helping businesses grow. We focus on neighborhood-centered entrepreneurs, giving them the critical tools for becoming sustainable. All those accepted into the program receive a $3,000 grant to cover tuition costs. Our program offers the following:

  • Small Business Lab – a unique environment where you gain hands-on experience in running a business under real world conditions.
  • Exclusive networking opportunities with some of Chicago’s top business and industry leaders.
  • One-on-one coaching for graduates
  • Opportunities for building credit and gaining access to capital
  • Additional workshops on marketing, finance, and technologyslide1

Ideas from the North Lawndale Neighborhood Start Fund

Neighborhood Start Fund was founded by Lupe Fiasco and Di-Ann Eisnor to turn ideas into start-ups.  We need more diverse entrepreneurs bringing fresh ideas and new innovations to life.

So, they created a neighborhood-specific fund to support entrepreneurs and start-ups from underserved areas and of course so the best new ideas won’t go wasted. They provide access, network, workshops, mentoring and of course funding. Learn more here 

While the application is closed for North Lawndale entrepreneurs at this time, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council would like to highlight the ideas that were presented by budding North Lawndale entrepreneurs.  We are showcasing below a Power Point presentation that was presented by the team of Thom Alcazar, Bob Shaunnessey and Eric Pettersen with their funding application.  Thom is a member of NLCCC.

If you, or anyone you know, has presented an idea for submission to the Neighborhood Start Fund, please feel free to contact Valerie F. Leonard at consulting@valeriefleonard.com, to have your idea posted on this blog.  We are presenting these ideas to show other North Lawndale residents what is possible.  We have used a photo from the Neighborhood Start Fund website to emphasize that point.  Enjoy!