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Program Archives


Revitalizing Civic Commitment


(click on each project listed below to learn more)

Citizen Leaders (1996-2000 in Chicago. 2002-3 in Ghana. 2007-8 in Montana)

Englewood Intergenerational Community Organizing Pilot (1994)

Making Civic Connections (1996))

click here to obtain downloadable documents

Citizen Leaders (1996-2000 in Chicago. 2002-3 in Ghana. 2007-8 in Montana

Imagine Chicago creates and leads programs to build leadership skills that impact the development of communities. Its core program, Citizen Leaders, identifies grass-roots citizens with commitment and leadership potential, and provides them training in developing plans, writing proposals, and organizing and implementing innovative community projects. Leaders and their groups are provided $500 in seed money to create projects of their own design, involving at least six other volunteers, that meet the needs of their communities as they perceive them.


In its first year, 1996, with funding from the David K. Hardin Generativity Trust, the program graduated thirty-seven citizen leaders, some of them teenagers. Chicago neighborhoods and communities involved included Austin, Uptown, Chatham, Pilsen, Humboldt Park, Roseland and Englewood. Religious and cultural communities included Catholic, Baptist, and Buddhist; Laotian, Korean, Filipino, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and African American.


In 1997 Citizen Leaders expanded, with support from the Surdna Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, to take this program into communities to determine if the collective impact of multiple concurrent innovations in a neighborhood would increase the level and rate of civic involvement. Community programs were held in West Garfield Park with Bethel New Life and in Englewood with Mt. Carmel AME Church. Imagine Englewood if…and Every Block is A Village are second-generation Citizen Leaders programs developed by the local community in Englewood and Austin which have been locally sustained and expanded significantly. In 2000-1, Citizen Leaders expanded into the North of Howard street neighborhood with support from the Seabury Foundation, and created a Parent Citizen Leaders  program in the Chicago Public Schools with support from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. It was subsequently run in rural Ghana in partnership with a local development organization (link to Citizen Leaders Ghana attached)  Since 2007, it has been run in Montana in partnership with Hopa Mountain. For a detailed description of Citizen Leaders, click here.  If you are interested in running Citizen Leaders in your own community, download the 8 part CL training manual here.  A case study of the Citizen Leaders program can be found in Case Studies.

Englewood Intergenerational Community Organizing Pilot (1994)

In summer 1994, Imagine Chicago worked with the African American Leadership Partnership in the Englewood community to train and organize eighty young people in a summer city jobs program,. The young people learned community assessment and organizing skills, including appreciative interviewing techniques. The vision that emerged out of their work was that their community could become a safer, more secure place where youth could thrive and develop the skills necessary to influence and shape Chicago's future in a positive way.


Imagine Chicago helped link their concerns to an emerging citywide initiative called YouthNet which encouraged communities to organize on behalf of their youth by providing community planning grants to design youth centers which would connect a wide range of services that give young people opportunities for positive development. Imagine Chicago worked closely with 20 youth from Christian Covenant Outreach Church, to develop and create a community organizing process to get a YouthNet for Englewood. The young people organized a presentation for community leaders, so they could share their own vision and action plan and solicit support to make the YouthNet a reality. These dedicated youth developed an appreciative inquiry protocol around the YouthNet and conducted appreciative interviews across their community to gain further support and involve-ment from residents. The possibility of securing a YouthNet center gave focus and energy to the community outreach work. Under the leadership of a local pastor and his wife, the youth recruited a variety of community organizations and individuals to join together to form a youth collabora-tive. This was the first Imagine Chicago pilot that helped develop a locally owned concrete community organizing goal.

Making Civic Connections (1996))

Completed in December 1996, more than 580 people participated in this year-long series of intergenerational conversations and dramatic presentations designed and organized by IMAGINE CHICAGO and underwritten by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois Humanities Council as part of a National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity. 


These conversations helped link the perspectives of diverse individuals and newcomer communities to documents of “American” self-understanding and to opportunities for civic participation in Chicago.  Twenty highly diverse ethnic and religious groups (fourteen different faith traditions) participated as organizational partners in conversations also open to the general public.  Collaborators included the Metropolitan Chicago Interreligious Initiative, the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Historical Society, Loyola University, and Pegasus Players. For a detailed description of the program content, click here. .

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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