Chicago nonprofit competes in contest

By SpencerRoush

Nonprofit organizations may be struggling in the current economy due to foundations decreasing grants, but one Chicago group, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, is expanding its services and helping the community with the assistance of a sponsorship program.

One small, 40-year-old toothpaste company, Tom’s of Maine, well-known for helping people and businesses in its community, is trying to help nonprofit organizations such as CAASE by hosting a contest to give away $20,000 to five nonprofits located in the U.S. The contest was designed to help some nonprofits with  funding problems and also to get them involved in their communities by introducing a new program.

CAASE, a group that offers legal aid to victims of sexual exploitation and provides programs to prevent men from buying sex from prostitutes, is the only Chicago-based nonprofit that is currently in the running for the sponsorship money.

The organization was selected out of 2,000 applicants to be a part of the 50 organizations that the public is voting on through during October.

Rachel Durchslag, executive director of CAASE, said it is one of the only organizations in the country that is targeting young men for prevention programs to eliminate the demand for prostitutes.

“When we originally applied, we weren’t aware of the scope of how many organizations would be applying,” Durchslag said. “I believe that the program that we are working on is really unique. I thought [the project] was worth applying for.”

Durchslag said CAASE is working on a curriculum to teach in schools, which is the program they outlined in their application for the contest. She said even if they aren’t awarded the sponsorship money, this will still be their next project.

“We would like to create this collaborative program where we bring to the table different organizations that deal with different aspects of gender-based violence, and create a curriculum that ties all of these forms of violence together and shows how they don’t exist in isolation,” Durchslag said. “They are a part of this broader system and start bringing it into schools.”

CAASE plans to collaborate with other nonprofits that deal with domestic violence, sexual assault and gender issues and create a four-week curriculum with 50-minute sessions. Durchslag said they aren’t sure where their curriculum will be presented.

“We are less concerned about the venue and more concerned about the age because it’s really targeted toward high school-aged men,” said Susan Dewhirst, media and public relations leader for Tom’s of Maine. “Research has shown that the majority of men who do purchase sex [do so] before their 23rd birthday, so we would like to reach them before they go to college.”

Durchslag said this program is the first of its kind and they aren’t sure how fast it will grow, but they are hoping to expand the the model if it’s successful. She said the $20,000 sponsorship money would pay for six months of planning the curriculum and a pilot program.

According to Durchslag, CAASE is able to start new programs and expand them because they have received adequate funding through a significant grant from the Noble Foundation, a group that gives funding to nonprofits, and they now also have the chance to win the $20,000 sponsorship from the contest. While they are starting new programs, many of their nonprofit collaborative partners are laying off workers and cutting services to the public.

“It’s pretty sad in a lot of ways,” Durchslag said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but I think it could have pretty dire consequences that we haven’t seen yet.”

Dewhirst said they didn’t realize how popular their contest would be and were overwhelmed with applications.

“We are well aware of what’s going on with the economy and how it’s impacting  nonprofits,” Dewhirst said.

Anne Bowhay, associate director of development for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said many foundations say they decreased their grants this year and the next because endowments have dropped.  The CCH cut its budget by 13 percent over the past two years and their financial situation is similar to many other nonprofit groups in Chicago, she said.