Not unlike most U.S. cities, Peoria, Illinois, and its surrounding communities have areas where economic development has ceased, existing businesses have left, housing is crumbling, crime and unemployment are high and no public transportation is available. Yet, the residents in these areas have the same desires as everyone else. They want a safe place to live and raise children, a job they like, local neighborhood businesses to shop in, and a neighborhood they can be proud of.
Peoria is blessed to have a strong base of non-profit organizations to help families in these blighted neighborhoods struggling with the problems I mentioned above. While the Caterpillar Foundation supports many of these organizations, we’ve recently found ourselves asking: Why were these residents not thriving?
It became evident we were treating the symptoms, not the causes. The greater Peoria area needed an organization to help develop the blighted neighborhoods and address challenges such as affordable housing and high crime rates. And we need it not just within Peoria. The issues stretch beyond the city limits. We wondered, is there such an organization?
Be honest. Everyone rolls their eyes when a cold call comes in. Ring …Steve Sagner, head of development for LISC, came calling in February 2011. LISC was fundraising and wanted an investment from the Caterpillar Foundation. Doubt turned to intrigue. As the conversation deepened into what LISC offered, my team thought this could be just what Peoria needed. With a 30-year track record of revitalizing communities in need, LISC would mobilize all available resources for job training, business development, affordable housing, child care and more. By the end of the call, LISC agreed to do an assessment of Peoria for a possible future office.
The news got better. LISC agreed Peoria fit its organizational model. The organization admitted it had not worked in a city with a rural and urban strategy, but was confident it could deliver results. To be honest, we weren’t sure what their model meant. The day Anika Goss-Foster took us to visit the Auburn Grisham neighborhood in Chicago was the day all of the dots connected for us. When we saw the thriving neighborhood, the Net center full of people on computers working on resumes and reading the USA Today, the new Walgreens, the financial office for residents, and most importantly, the pride of the residents, we knew the investment in bringing LISC to Peoria was forthcoming.
Caterpillar Inc. – and by extension the Caterpillar Foundation – promotes the health, welfare and economic stability of communities around the world where its employees work and live. One such community is Peoria, Illinois, our hometown and global headquarters. LISC’s expertise and experience, coupled with our strong non-profit organization base, as well as the support from the city and county, provides a brighter future for the greater Peoria area.
Has your view on answering a cold call changed? Ours sure has.