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Program Archives


Developing and Connecting Community Leaders


(click on each project listed below to learn more)

Connections that Work (1997)

Moving to Health (2001-2002)

Women Alive (2003))

Connections that Work (1997)

This joint project between Imagine Chicago and Case Western University’s Weatherhead School of Management in 1997 was focused on connecting and scaling up the impact of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s youth and community health grantees in Chicago. Through a series of conferences, forums, and training workshops, the process helped build shared visions, creating and strengthening partnerships, and deepening institutional capacity to innovate.  


The initiative included a 3-day Future Search conference, run with David Cooperrider from Case Western, in which health, religious, educational, cultural and leadership organizations joined together to discuss strategies on how to create and sustain vital communities for children in Chicago. In June, 1997 45 community leaders participated in a 2-day workshop on Appreciative Inquiry theory and practice. With funding from the Seabury Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Connections that Work continued throughout 1997 to provide bi-monthly forums on topics of common interest to Kellogg grantees and others interested in a positive future for Chicago’s communities and children. For program details and lessons learned, please click here or visit Case Studies section of this website.

Moving to Health (2001-2002)

In 2001, Scrap Mettle SOUL (SMS), a community performance group in Uptown, Chicago, entered into partnership with Imagine Chicago to experiment with ways arts and civic dialogue could be combined around issues of urgent social impact. In consultation with multiple local organizations, the partners decided to focus on gathering and presenting stories about health. Since Uptown is a community with poor health outcomes which houses many newly arrived immigrants, mentally ill and elderly residents, ‘moving to health’ seemed an important theme.


In 2002, stories gathered in Uptown were brought together in a performance enacted by local residents entitled “And the Whole World Gets Well.” The dress rehearsal was seen by a group of visiting UK dignitaries in April 2002, including UK Health Minister Hazel Blears, who had brought a team to Chicago to learn about effective community participation approaches to improving health outcomes.


In September 2002, two groups, one from Scotland, the other from London (Southwark), met SMS at the global Imagine Chicago celebration in Chicago. Tasting community performance doing the storytelling game raised interest in how a visit by SMS to the UK might be a catalyst for local health conversations. Because SMS’ cast and stories involve ‘hard to reach’ populations (mentally ill, homeless, abused young people, drug addicts, etc.) the hope was that their presence might provoke richer community dialogue about what makes health possible. It would also demonstrate the importance of storytelling and community participation in moving to health.


The tour was set for January 2003, requiring a whirlwind effort of organizing which became a major catalyst for expanded community connections in Southwark and Scotland, as neighbors were recruited as host families, local churches and shopping malls were transformed into theatre halls, and schools opened their doors to storytelling and community performance workshops. Read a case study of this process.

Women Alive (2003))

In 2003, Imagine Chicago's founder was honored as a Chicago social justice pioneer, and Imagine Chicago was engaged to help organize and document a special project honoring 24 such women in a special exhibition and public program called Women Alive: A Legacy of Social Justice. The exhibit was created to raise awareness about the many Chicago-area women who have been social justice pioneers working on behalf of education, healthcare, or employment, fighting to eliminate bias on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, or disability and who have dedicated their lives to shaping values, raising families, and promoting social change.


From activists to elected representative, artists to historians, women of all different ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds, these Chicago leaders included: Dr. Rev. Willie Barrow, Marca Bristo, Bliss Browne, Dr. Iva Carruthers, Patty Crowley O.S.B., Patricia Crowley, Josie Opena Disterhoft, Sunny Fischer, Jacky Grimshaw, Ronne Hartfield, Bette Cerf Hill, Mary Houghton, Jean Hunt, Indira Johnson, Eva Maddox, Aurie Pennick, Sylvia Puente, Hedy M. Ratner, Jan Schakowsky, Diann Deweese Smith, Alaka Wali, Bernarda Wong, Rev. Addie Wyatt. The criteria for their selection included their commitment to improving conditions for disadvantaged or oppressed groups and to empowering their communities, and that they were risk-takers, creating or leading a new vision and exploring new territory. In addition, they led exemplary lives outside of career and public activities, dedicated to family and to religious or spiritual values; they were considered role models who could inspire others to socially just missions and achievements.


Each woman created a unique installation to tell the story of her life, in partnership with local artists and designers. These inspiring exhibits-created from notebooks and journals, photographs, posters, works of art-testified to the values, struggles, and achievements of these advocates for labor, health, employment, economic opportunity, education, interfaith unity, and social inclusion. They made visible the vital connections between personal values and public action, and how women think about and express their devotion to improving public life. It was the organizer's hope that this unique exhibit would challenge people's thinking about the roles of women and raise up a new generation of pioneers.


Imagine Chicago helped bring that connection alive for 20 young women who volunteered to interview the honorees and document their stories for the exhibition. The exhibition was held at Archeworks, and was accompanied by a series of special lectures, discussions, poetry, music, and performances organized by Imagine Chicago. Program details can be found here.   The special events provided an uncommon opportunity to raise and discuss vital questions about public life, and to bring awareness to the distinctive ways women think about and advance social justice. The exhibition process and outcomes were documented by Imagine Chicago in a publication entitled Women Alive: A Legacy of Social Justice.

Resources (downloadable documents)

Citizen Leaders (CL):

CL Overview and Examples

CL Training Manual

CL Ghana (short version)


Making Civic Connections:

Making Civic Connections




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