Take a walk through Urban
Initiatives' history to learn
about our programs,
participants, and growth
over the last 15 years.
Urban Initiatives is founded by
Jim Dower and Dan Isherwood.
At the time of UI's founding, Jim was a substitute teacher at Byrd
Academy in Cabrini Green (the neighborhood you're standing in
right now!). Together they saw a need for extracurricular
activities that would not only allow students to be active outside
of school hours, but that also could act as a community unifier
and a way to motivate students to perform in the classroom.
Fun Fact: Before deciding to have a soccer program, they
initially thought to create a kayaking club!
UI hosts their first Crosstown
Classic with the Wilmette Wings.
Both Jim and Dan coached for the Wilmette Wings, a soccer club
on the Northshore, when they started UI. In order to bring these
two communities together, they arranged a day of soccer, fun,
and friendship that started the tradition of the Wings Crosstown.
Every year, UI buses several Work to Play teams to Wilmette for
the annual Crosstown classic.
At the time, UI had just one program: Work to Play. Work to Play is a
health and education soccer program that is the foundation for
our continuum of programming today! Work to Play aims to promote
healthy living habits, incentivize academic achievement, and teach
social emotional learning through play.
Urban Initiatives hosts their first
The first Soccer Ball marked the first major fundraising gala for
Urban Initiatives. This annual gala raises money for our
programs and celebrates the stakeholders that make our
programs possible. In its first year, the Soccer Ball raised
$70,000. In 2018, the Soccer Ball raised $650,000. It is a
trademark event that is always the party of the year!
Urban Initiatives hired their first
full-time staff member.
UI's programs were made possible with the help of
volunteers and part-time coaches for years. In 2007, we
hired our first full-time operational staff member. Today, UI
employs over 200 part and full time staff members across
In 2017, Urban Initiatives rolled out our partnership with After School
Matters. This partnership allows UI participants who are now high
schoolers in our Coach for Success program to come back and work as
staff members during summer camp!
Urban Initiatives Work to Play
participants play on Wrigley
Over the years, Urban Initiatives has been invited to participate
in experiences across the city thanks to incredible partners like
the Chicago Cubs. Check out some of the partner sites that UI
has visited over the years!
Urban Initiatives launches new recess
called Play with Potential.
In 2011, Chicago Public
Schools began to mandate
recess at every school. This
decision was made in
response to Former First
Lady, Michelle Obama's Let's
Move campaign that aimed
to prioritize exercise, but
many schools didn't have the
resources or staff needed to
run a safe, productive, and
Urban Initiatives quickly
worked to fill this need by
launching Play with
Potential. This structured recess program aims to maximize the
benefits of play time for all students at a school, grades K-8, while
increasing opportunities for physical activity and social-emotional
learning during the school day. It impacts every child in a school
community and works to have widespread impact on the culture
and climate of a school. Today, Play with Potential impacts over
14,000 CPS students each school day!
Play with Potential is one of the two programs in our offerings that Urban
Initiatives calls Culture & Climate programming. Our Culture & Climate
programs impact every child in a school community and allow us to
influence a school's culture as a whole.
Take the Lead.
As Urban Initiatives' participants grew older, there became a
need for a program that served graduates of Work to Play. UI
launched Take the Lead- a leadership development and high
school readiness program- in 2013 to serve the students who
were exemplary leaders in Work to Play.
Take the Lead provides students opportunities to serve as Team
Captains while learning leadership development and high school
readiness skills through bi-monthly retreats and monthly discussions
facilitated by UI staff members. Today Take the Lead serves over 200
Urban Initiatives hosts first
Work to Play Cup.
The Work to Play Cup is Urban Initiatives' largest programming
event of the school year. It is the capstone event of our
program year that celebrates the dedication and hard work of
our participants. This past year, over 1,300 youth participants
were invited for a day that includes small-sided soccer, recess
games and activities, an awards ceremony, and a dance party.
In 2013, we hosted our first ever Work to Play Cup at the
Midway Plaisance and it brought together over 1,000
participants, volunteers, staff, and family members. This fun
day of soccer, fun, and friendship has become an annual
highlight for our staff, volunteers, and participants.
Work to Play serves over 1000
The Work to Play program has consistently grown throughout
the years. Check out our growth by the numbers and how
our uniforms have changed in the last fifteen years!
sends their first cohort to
National Outdoor Leadership
Urban Initiatives seeks not only to impact our participants
through our programming but also to connect our
participants to other experiences and resources to enrich
their learning. In 2014, we sent our first cohort of students to
the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)- a two-week
wilderness expedition that teaches leadership through
uncertainty. NOLS is one of many summer opportunities
afforded to high performing Take the Lead (5-8th grade) and
Coach for Success (9th-12th grade) students. Our participants
travel across the country for opportunities like NOLS, the
National Student Leadership Conference, the Julie Foudy
Sports Leadership Academy, and more!
Urban Initiatives holds the first
Corporate Challenge Cup.
The Corporate Challenge Cup is the third of UI's banner eventswhich
also include Soccer Ball and Work to Play Cup. The
Corporate Challenge Cup is Urban Initiatives’ opportunity to bring
together all the incredible corporate citizens that support our
students in a co-ed adult soccer tournament. Over 20
corporations compile their teams for a day of friendly
competition, an all day DJ, team building opportunities, and the
chance to take home the coveted title of Corporate Challenge Cup
champion! Since 2015 this exciting event has raised over
2015- CBRE won the first Corporate Challenge Cup
2016- Northwestern Mutual took home the trophy
2017- CBRE came back and triumphed again
2018- Balyasny Asset Management came out on top
Initiatives becomes a
provider of the Community
Schools Initiative program.
Community Schools Initiative is a federally funded, out-ofschool-time
program that seeks to bring resources like
enrichment activities and extracurricular programs into
schools. We serve as the lead partner organization for schools
and coordinate the program. This program allows Urban
Initiatives to touch all aspects of a school culture and climate.
We categorize the Community Schools Initiative alongside Play
with Potential in what we call our Culture & Climate
programming because by impacting every student in a school
community we can address the culture of a school as a whole.
Coach for Success.
In 2016, Urban Initiatives launched the final program in our
continuum of programming. Coach for Success is a college and
career readiness program for high school students that pairs
participants with mentors from Chicago’s professional
community. Students join Urban Initiatives’ staff as Coaches
during summer camp, and they have the opportunity to “pay it
forward” by leading and mentoring younger Captains and
Coach for Success wouldn't be possible without the incredible dedication of
the mentors that support our students throughout their high school
journey. These mentors attend monthly meetings with their mentees,
provide guidance via text/phone call check ins, and help their mentees
make critical choices about their future.
Coach for Success participants
This year we had several students who progressed all the way
through the continuum of programming graduate from high
school. These graduates are attending colleges and trade
schools across Illinois.
graduate high school.
Christian Gordon (bottom right) is a Cubs Scholar and will be
attending Depaul University on a full ride scholarship where he
will study accounting. We are continually impressed with the
accomplishments made by the incredible students in our Coach
for Success program.
Initiatives celebrates its
Urban Initiatives has grown up from a small health and
education soccer program, into a progressive organization with
diverse programmatic offerings that allow us to engage with
students and families from a young age and build relationships
that last through high school and beyond. This year we are not
only thanking those who have made our work possible, but
also looking towards the future where sport and play will
continue to impact our city by empowering our next generation
Urban Initiatives will complete
its current strategic plan and
serve 30,000 youth across
Urban Initiatives current three-year strategic plan ends in 2020
at which point we hope to be serving 30,000 students across
Chicago's neighborhoods. This goal can only be met with the
help of our partners, volunteers, and supporters. We are so
excited to continue this work for the next fifteen years and
we are glad you're part of our team.