What was the catalyst for your family’s philanthropic involvement in Lake County?
Our family foundation (Gorter Family Foundation) was a responsive foundation in that we would respond to requests from various charities. We continue to do that but about 10 years ago we decided to be proactive and more selective. After considerable research, we discovered there was a tremendous need in Lake County. Lake County is an unusual county—in the southeast part of the County there are wealthy communities but the north and west parts of the county have significant needs. We feel that education is critical to the country and we realized that if we focused our principal effort on North Chicago’s education we could make a big difference for the 3,500 students in that community.
If you don’t have a solid educational foundation, you can’t really grow and prosper and I think there’s a lot wrong with our current educational system from Pre-K through college. If we can help North Chicago kids get a chance at a good education, this will open up better future opportunities.
Why is it important for donors to focus on Lake County?
There is a need locally and one of the problems has been that many donors who live in Lake County tend to look South to Chicago. We’re trying to persuade people to look North and that’s our basic motto, ‘Look North because the needs are here too.’ The same needs exist in Lake County that are in Chicago. In Waukegan, North Chicago, and Round Lake, there is homelessness, drug addiction, medical problems, and issues in education. Many wonderful not-for-profit organizations exist in Lake County that are well-run, well-respected, do a great job, and need support.
Can you describe North Chicago Community Partners (NCCP)—one of the organizations the Gorter Family Foundation supports and one where you are a board member?
NCCP started 10 years ago as an operating foundation with two employees. Today it has 40 employees, most of whom spend their time in North Chicago schools. It brings extracurricular activities and other services that are taken for granted in a place like Lake Forest or Lake Bluff but due to budgetary constraints are not provided to North Chicago children. NCCP provides a whole host of services including: after-school programming; tutoring services; family activities; trips; etc… Jennifer Grumhaus who is the executive director has devised a program using the community school concept—that the school is basically the center of the community, but not just for the kids but for the parents and for the family too… making it all come together. It’s been very satisfying and effective.
As NCCP celebrates its 10th anniversary, what are some of the achievements you are most proud of?
What are we most proud of? The fact that we’ve been accepted by the community as real players, that we’re not short-term—we are long-term, that we really care about the children of North Chicago, and we want to better their educational opportunities. I think they appreciate this, and working together with the teachers and the families, it’s been a very exciting 10 years.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a difference whether it be in North Chicago or in their own neighborhood?
If you really want to make a difference you need to focus. You can’t be all things to all people so select something that you really care about and become really knowledgeable about it—learn what other people are doing, make it a coordinated effort, and put your heart, mind, and money into it.