We know how important summer and extra-curricular activities are for children. It’s a thrill to watch kids engage in active, hands-on learning, having new experiences and making new friends. We’re fortunate that our donors have made our robust scholarship program possible because we need to  provide these experiences equitably – offering access to all children regardless of financial circumstances.

Plenty of other local organizations share that commitment and offer scholarships, but it’s tough for eligible families to find all these opportunities and navigate the approval process. We think we could make it easier for families, so that’s why we decided to enter the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation’s Big Idea contest.

We are thrilled that our Big Idea, SHINE (Scholarship Hub Inspires Needed Enrichment), has been chosen as a finalist. With the support of a Big Idea grant, SHINE would create a centralized recruitment strategy and online application process for scholarships. More than 1,100 students in Oak Park and River Forest receive free or reduced lunch, making “extras” such as summer camp and after-school activities hard to afford.

The Big Idea is a seed grant contest sponsored by a giving group established by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy (ELP). Every year ELP awards an annual seed grant of $50,000 from the ELP Fund for a transformative idea. This is done through a competitive process. Applicants first submit a written proposal and then five finalists are chosen to present their idea at a fun, interactive event.

With SHINE, families needing scholarships for local summer camps or after school programs would have one central spot to learn about the available offerings and one application to fill out, no matter how many programs they wanted to apply to. We believe that actively recruiting families and reducing the red tape around applications would result in many more families accessing scholarship opportunities–and more organizations willing to offer scholarships.

Closing the “activity gap” is an important priority for our community. The lack of enrichment activities worsens the already-growing income achievement gap that keeps children from low-income families behind in school and later in life. In fact, some data suggests that involvement in extracurricular activities is just as meaningful as test scores when it comes to subsequent educational attainment and accumulated earnings later in life. The skills, habits, connections, and knowledge that kids develop in after-school activities and summer camps help them gain self-esteem and resilience.

We know how much our families value these opportunities because we get notes like this as soon as parents learn they have been approved for scholarships:

“When I received your email today, I almost jumped out of my skin, and the boys danced in the kitchen from excitement! You made this wonderful experience possible for us. It would have been financially impossible to send both boys to camp. I just wanted to say thank you!”

We hope SHINE can bring this level of joy to many more families in the years to come.
If you’d like to support our SHINE presentation, and learn more about the other “Big Ideas” in the community, please consider attending the OPRF Community Foundation’s event.