Photograph of the Sinai Community Institute in the foreground with the downtown Chicago skyline in the background. Photograph of two people talking at the Sinai Community Institute’s WIC office. Photograph of an instructor and people using computers at the Technology Center. Photograph of a classroom at Sinai Community Institute. Photograph of workers in protective gear handling a beehive. Photograph of a Sweet Beginnings employee using processing equipment.

 

Home >Case Studies >Sinai Community Institute: Health-Based Community Development in Chicago

 

Sinai Community Institute: Health-Based Community Development in Chicago

 

For more than 20 years, the Sinai Community Institute (SCI) has played a key role in improving health and quality of life for residents of Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods near Mount Sinai Hospital. The community-based health and social service provider offers programs and resources to meet the needs of residents at virtually every stage of life, ranging from prenatal care and wellness care for young expectant mothers to workforce development programs for unemployed and underemployed adults. The institute provides services in 25 program areas to approximately 28,000 families annually, most of whom are women and children.

Life-Cycle Approach to Resource Delivery

Since its inception, SCI has adopted a community development model that advances resident health. The nonprofit emerged from Mount Sinai Hospital in the early 1990s to fill social service gaps in the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital, including North Lawndale, South Lawndale, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, and Pilsen. As in many socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, residents of these neighborhoods experience low educational attainment and high rates of infant mortality and unemployment.

In its early years, SCI focused on reducing infant mortality rates. Essential to this work was connecting expectant mothers to the prenatal care that is critical to a healthy pregnancy. According to Debra Wesley, founder and president of SCI, one of the organization’s first programs was a grant-funded effort that helped 150 expectant mothers access healthcare. Infant mortality rates declined dramatically, and the institute had an early success story to share.

Over the years, SCI’s programs have grown to address the needs of individuals throughout their lives. SCI administers one of the largest Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs in Illinois, ensuring that young children have access to supplemental nutrition. The organization has leveraged this program as a tool for education — as well as nutrition — by offering onsite culinary training to WIC program participants. The Smart Shopper program teaches pregnant women about incorporating healthy foods into their diets to create the foundation for a healthy life. SCI’s work to ensure that neighborhood residents have access to basic necessities extends to their role as an agent in All Kids, the state of Illinois’ healthcare program that provides affordable health insurance for children and pregnant women.

Through its Sinai Parenting Institute, SCI also offers programs to reinforce parenting skills, and SCI’s Family Development Initiative offers parents programs to enhance the cognitive and developmental abilities of children from birth to 3 years old. The Learn Together Afterschool program provides enrichment, tutoring, and mentoring for school-aged children, and the Juvenile Intervention Support Center provides enhanced case management services to youth in the juvenile justice system.

Workforce Development

The organization’s commitment to education includes training and workforce development programs such as career counseling, case management, occupational internships, and training to help individuals achieve self-sufficiency. SCI’s comprehensive approach to individual development maintains continuity across the various programs, explains Wesley, who has worked to ensure that resources are in place for individuals throughout their lives.

Along with its own workforce programs, SCI has forged external partnerships with organizations to develop additional opportunities for area residents. One such partnership fostered the development of the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), a job training and workforce development organization that addresses unemployment and underemployment challenges facing North Lawndale residents.

NLEN’s coordinated suite of programs for people facing significant barriers to employment includes U-Turn Permitted, an intensive four-week training program for formerly incarcerated individuals. U-Turn Permitted focuses on learning interpersonal, conflict resolution, and time management skills; developing a work ethic; and resolving other workplace-related issues. NLEN maintains close relationships with Chicago-based employers to place U-Turn Permitted participants in jobs following their completion of the program; in 2014, more than 100 program graduates were able to secure employment.

Many U-Turn Permitted graduates gain valuable work experience with NLEN’s social enterprise business, Sweet Beginnings, before moving on to other employment. Since NLEN launched Sweet Beginnings in North Lawndale in 2005, the business has provided employment to more than 380 individuals while reducing recidivism among formerly incarcerated individuals. Although today it operates independently, NLEN received support from SCI in its early years. That support, which included office space and fiscal services, was instrumental in helping NLEN become the organization it is today.

People-Focused Community Development Strategy

Through its diverse program offerings, SCI is advancing a people-focused model of community development. The importance of health and wellness to positive life outcomes has formed the basis for much of SCI’s work. SCI reaches more than 28,000 families and individuals each year through its various programs, amounting to more than 800 hours of tutoring for each student participant, 6,500 hours of job readiness instruction, and nearly 670,000 hours of volunteer time donated each year.


Source:

Sinai Community Institute. 2014. “About Us.”Accessed 8 December 2014.

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Source:

Interview with Debra Wesley, president, Sinai Community Institute, 8 December 2014; Illinois Hospital Association. 2011. “Sinai Health System: A national model of urban health care delivery,” Profiles: Health Care Leadership and Innovation, September. Accessed 8 December 2014.

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Interview with Debra Wesley, 8 December 2014.

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Documents provided by Sinai Community Institute, 16 December 2014; Interview with Debra Wesley, 8 December 2014; Sinai Community Institute. 2014. “Programs: All Kids.” Accessed 8 December 2014.

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Source:

Documents provided by Sinai Community Institute, 16 December 2014; Interview with Debra Wesley, 8 December 2014.

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Interview with Debra Wesley, 8 December 2014.

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Interview with Debra Wesley, 8 December 2014.

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Documents provided by North Lawndale Employment Network, 21 December 2014.

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Documents provided by North Lawndale Employment Network, 21 December 2014.

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Documents provided by Sinai Community Institute, 16 December 2014.

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