Among the 1,500 small and locally owned businesses that got $6.2 million from the city's "Together Now" fund was the Hyde Park Learning Resource Center, which plans to use the money to equip the facility for the pandemic with sanitary supplies, cubicles, outdoor tenting and a new air filtration system.
More than 4,000 businesses applied before June 29; the grants, funded from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, the CARES Act and corporate and individual donations, were allocated by lottery.
Businesses that experienced damage from recent unrest and protests were eligible for grants of up to $10,000 to repair physical infrastructure damage, and those that experienced at least a 25% revenue loss due to COVID-19 were also eligible for grants of up to $4,000 to cover operating costs.
“From an unprecedented public health pandemic to national civil unrest, Chicago’s smallest businesses have faced a one-two punch that has devastated their business and the surrounding communities as well,” said Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar in a statement. “With the Together Now fund, we’re building on our efforts to provide our neighborhood business owners and local entrepreneurs with the resources they need to survive. By lifting up our small businesses, we’re ensuring they can continue to hire and build wealth in our neighborhoods.”
Executive Director Lillie Goodwin founded the Learning Resource Center, 5114 S. Dorchester Ave., 19 years ago. She typically runs a full-day summer camp for children 5- to 13-years-old and tutoring and after-school programs over the academic year.
"In the third week of March, we were told that we would have to close down. And it was devastating, because our program is set up where we have some low-income students — and we are funded by the state to service those students — but the majority of our students' parents pay for the services," she said. "By the end of March, we had no children. … We went into April with a lot of uncertainty, because it was sudden and totally unexpected."
Goodwin spent the week trying to implement online, remote learning, in which increasing numbers of students participated in May and June. The full typical summer curriculum — field trips, swimming, academic enrichment and sports — was not possible, however.
"In order to open, there were so many guidelines we needed to follow. I felt uncertain that we could bring all of our children back," she said. "So we did what we could." In July, the Learning Resource Center's capacity was 3 full-time children, down from 20-25 in a normal year. (Other children are still doing remote learning.)
Remote operations during the spring sustained Goodwin's businesses through the summer, but rent and utility costs have been difficult to pay. She did not get a Paycheck Protection Program grant, though she has gotten aid from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and she is looking to expand operations in the fall to sustain her business.
"Being awarded this grant will not only help us cover the cost of some things, but what we have to look at is moving forward and making families comfortable in sending their children out again, and having that environment set up in a way that the children and the staff are safe," she said. "Four thousand dollars is not going to cover it, but oh my goodness, it's a start."