This year has presented many unique challenges to business owners in the US. The end of the year is a time to show appreciation, especially for businesses who contribute to their communities by giving back. We spoke with Black-owned non-profit organizations and businesses about how their work improves their neighborhoods, how COVID-19 has impacted their business, and how support from their community makes a difference. Read Making an Impact: Organizations with Purpose to see the rest of the conversations.


About Ignite

Ignite offers a comprehensive continuum of services to young people between the ages of 14 to 26 who are unstably housed or experiencing homelessness. Beyond meeting youth's immediate needs, our services provide youth with all the tools and support they need to succeed: stable housing; access to employment and education opportunities; primary and mental health care; lasting connections with caring adults, and the skills to live a healthy and independent life.


Tell us about your business and the work you do with your community.

Ignite stands with youth on their journey to a home and a future with promise. Ignite helps unstably housed young people, ages 14 to 26, get their youth back and take the first step toward their journey to a stable home and a future with promise. Our transformative programming sparks youth's personal and economic independence by addressing their housing, education and employment, sense of well-being, and community connection. Our services include city-wide outreach and crisis support services, four unique housing programs to meet every need young people experiencing homelessness have, a daytime resource center open to anyone in need, comprehensive case management support, housing assessment, referral, and advocacy, financial empowerment classes, and support, education, life skills, and restorative justice groups. 


We have partnered with young people for their success for over 40 years, previously as Teen Living Programs. We believe every young person should have the support they need to be defined by their potential, not their circumstances.


How has this pandemic impacted your business over the last few months?

The pain and anguish that have stemmed from the world pandemic and the co-occurring civil unrest have reinforced our necessity and capability to be agile and responsive to our community’s needs. When the pandemic’s level of impending severity first became apparent in March, we immediately revised our guidelines to match the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations. Agency staff and youth were provided personal protective equipment, and their access to common areas was restricted to enforce social distancing. Operations expanded its practices around cleaning and sanitizing agency grounds. We reduced the number of young people we serve at one time at our new Community Hub in Bronzeville, our former Drop-in Resource Center’s replacement. We introduced virtual programming throughout Ignite, extending to case management sessions, community meetings, and support and education groups. Staff’s work schedules became staggered throughout agency programming.


Throughout this period, our expenses increased by nearly $50,000 a month. We applied for and thankfully received an emergency grant to help cover expenses. Overall, our efforts seem to be paying off, as our community has had little contact with Covid-19. Moreover, we have not closed our doors during the Covid-19 pandemic. They stayed open, and we maintained our services and support to youth without interruption. We continue to do so today.


What are you doing now that you weren't previously?

In addition to the above safety measures and changes to our programming described above, we’ve had to cancel our live fundraising events, including our 2020 Ignite & Shine Gala and our 2020 Poker & Casino Night. Instead of these live events, we held an online fundraising campaign, Ignite & Shine Online, in spring 2020 and a virtual trivia night, At Home with Ignite, in early October 2020.


What challenges did you have to overcome?

The primary challenge we had to overcome was the increase in expenses of nearly $50,000 a month in the initial months of the pandemic. These expenses included personnel-related costs, such as hazard pay and additional on-call staff to ensure we had healthy staff available at all times, cleaning and sanitation supplies, increased food costs, and rent relief for clients experiencing job losses or reduced hours because of the pandemic. Fortunately, our community partners have been incredibly generous, and we have applied for and been awarded various grants to help cover these expenses.   


How will support from your community positively impact your business?

With the help of partners like Staples, Ignite is transforming the lives of young people experiencing homelessness. Ignite understands that homelessness is a situation, not a character trait. We envision a world where all young people have the support they need to be defined by their potential, not their circumstances. We make it our mission to work with these young people, helping them to uncover strength in themselves and visions of futures with promise. We accomplish this by bridging youth’s opportunity and wealth gaps through transformative programming that sparks opportunity, community, and resiliency.


We could not achieve all that we do without the strong backing of our community. While our services are open to anyone in need, ages 14 to 26, regardless of where they are from, we are incredibly proud to serve Chicago’s south side where our programming is located. Reflective of our location, the vast majority of Ignite’s young people, 97%, are people of color, including 89% that identify as Black or African American. For over forty years, we have worked to instill in our youth that they – their lives – matter. We invite investment from those who share in this belief. This is why we are incredibly grateful to partner with Staples and Staples Store 1606 in Chicago’s South Loop. Together, we are seeing to it that Ignite’s young people are not only healthy and safe, but that they are advancing in their education and careers—emerging as leaders, both in our community and our world.  We want to say thank you to Staples for making a difference in our community and in the lives of youth experiencing homelessness. 


What advice or tips do you have for other organizations in your industry?

Stay true to your mission while working closely with your community, including your friends, partners, and supporters during these challenging times.