Joining Forces to Empower Chicago’s Women and Girls
December 20, 2018 | Grantee Stories | Chicago Commitment

Chicago Foundation for Women works to strengthen equitable opportunities for women and girls, supporting their full range of needs from jobs to health care to community education.

Halfway through the weekend, Guadalupe Hinojosa starts to miss her job—as a welder at a Chicago company that makes chairs and bar stools.

“It’s an awesome job. I thought I’d never have a job like that, ever,” says Hinojosa, 36 and the mother of four.

As a girl, she wanted to be a mechanic, a career that did not seem open to women. But about two years ago, after a series of life-changing events and then some training, Hinojosa found her passion and independence—breaking free of a pattern where she felt dependent on men.

She learned to weld through a training program funded by Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), an organization promoting civil and human rights, empowerment, and equal opportunities for women and girls through investment, leadership development, and community education.

The foundation recognizes that a list of interrelated issues—including domestic violence, housing insecurity, and a lack of health care and bank credit—often make it difficult for women to earn a living and realize their potential. So it coordinates and funds services and initiatives that promote women’s well-being holistically while helping them meet overlapping needs.

The foundation works for gender and racial equity through more than 160 projects and 3,000 donors and local partners.

CFW’s 2018 report on the status of Chicago-area women and girls documents improvements in their participation in the labor force. But it noted that women, especially African Americans and Latinas, still are disproportionately employed in lower-paying fields such as health care and sales. The foundation aims to break down such occupational segregation, helping women like Hinojosa access a wider range of professions, and pushes to increase wages in “historically undervalued, feminized work.”

The foundation works for gender and racial equity through more than 160 projects and 3,000 donors and local partners. Last year its work had an impact on more than 51,000 women, girls, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people in the Chicago area.


Empowering Neighborhoods

CFW also aims to empower entire neighborhoods, particularly ones that have suffered a shortage of public and private investment.

Through a pilot program, Englewood Women’s Initiative, the foundation brings together a range of partners to strengthen and sustain the economic security of working women and address their full range of needs—from financial coaching and job training to domestic violence counseling and legal aid. The goal is to connect 60 women in the Englewood neighborhood with the tools to increase their earnings to at least $40,000 a year, and the foundation hopes to replicate the program in other neighborhoods.

“We realize there’s a wealth of knowledge in these individuals and communities already,” says Maleia Scuefield-Ransom, a community engagement officer for the foundation. “How do we add to that and work alongside folks to remove barriers in the paths to opportunity? Imagine how Englewood would look if investments were pumped in like they are in the Loop?”


Telling Stories, Forging Paths

The foundation also encourages women to tell their own stories to inspire peers and promote change. An event in July, Dare to Create, showcased artists, poets, and other women telling stories about surviving and fighting back against sexual violence, workplace harassment, and domestic abuse.


For Chevleair Brown, breaking occupational barriers meant starting her own business, Children’s Caravan Transportation.

Working full-time as a retail supervisor, Brown found it challenging to get her son to school. About four years ago, she met a woman who ran a service driving kids to school in minivans, and she was inspired to do something similar. 

She founded her own small company in 2015, saved up to buy a vehicle, and started advertising, with the help of a loan from Accion Chicago, a grantee partner of CFW. She now enjoys earning her livelihood driving children between school and home, showing movies, and offering snacks, sometimes in a rolling pizza party. Brown is pursuing a degree in business administration, with plans to expand her business and hire additional drivers.

“It is very rewarding being a business owner versus working for someone else,” Brown says, noting that recent school closures and safety concerns make it a challenge for some children to get to school. “I feel like it’s a big benefit to the city.”

Hinojosa also hopes to start her own business one day and dreams of owning a house with a detached garage she can turn into a welding shop.

The suburban Cicero resident now is a union member and earns around $30,000 a year, with potential to earn significantly more as her career advances. She hopes to study metallurgy and loves welding so much that during breaks she creates things out of scrap metal—a locomotive for her son, a table for her mother, Edenina de Leon.



Women veterans interact with vendors at the Chicago Foundation for Women's veterans recruitment event in Englewood.


A New Life, Feeling Her Power

De Leon says the family is grateful that Hinojosa can make such plans after she survived a medical scare during the birth of her fourth child in 2016. The ordeal temporarily left her in a medically induced coma.

Around that time, Hinojosa left her husband to start a new life with her children, ages two to 12.  Her focal point became Chicago Women in Trades, another of the CFW’s grantee partners, where she took classes during the day while working at Target at night. 

Hinojosa says every day she feels her power—power to make things people need out of white-hot molten metal, power to make her own decisions, and power to teach her two daughters that they can realize their own dreams by following in her footsteps.

“As for my sons…,” Hinojosa says, “I want to make sure the two men in my life grow up strong men and confident men, able to say they are proud of women because they know we are capable.”


MacArthur has provided $5.2 million to Chicago Foundation for Women since 1991, including a $1 million grant to strengthen its operations and programs in 2017.

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