Polk Bros. Foundation Senior Program Officer Debbie Reznick will step down in May 2024 to pursue new adventures
After over 30 years of philanthropic and nonprofit leadership committed to social justice and economic opportunity, Polk Bros. Foundation Senior Program Officer Debbie Reznick will step down from her role with the Foundation in May 2024 to pursue new adventures as part of her long-held personal goals. Debbie first joined the Foundation in 2000, and leads and designs grantmaking in the Foundation’s Strong Communities and Enhanced Capacity program areas.
“Debbie has been an invaluable cornerstone of our team for over 20 years. I’m grateful to have been able to work and learn with her along the way,” said Polk Bros. Foundation CEO Gillian Darlow. “She has worked tirelessly and helped make significant progress on so many issues, especially toward ending homelessness in Chicago and ensuring our city has a strong nonprofit ecosystem. Her creative problem solving and her thoughtful approach to asking tough questions has helped shape our grantmaking – now and well into the future.”
In addition to overseeing ongoing grantmaking to nearly 100 organizations each year, Debbie has developed grantmaking strategies and initiatives that support strategic, innovative and effective solutions to address persistent inequities – including the Foundation’s Equitable Recovery Initiative.
Driven to change systems that perpetuate racial inequity, Debbie has worked to collaborate with other funders and across issues, both locally and nationally, especially on housing, legal services and organizational and sector capacity building. She has served as a founding board member of numerous organizations and helped launch programs that filled gaps in supports or services, including:
- Chicago’s Continuum of Care, a membership organization comprised of more than 100 organizations and individuals who work to prevent and end homelessness in Chicago. Debbie served on the board and executive committee for much of the last 20 years, and helped draft Chicago’s plans to end homelessness
- Funders Together to End Homelessness, a national network of grantmakers that mobilizes its members to use philanthropy’s voice, influence, and financial capital to end homelessness by creating and advancing solutions that are grounded in racial and housing justice. Debbie served on the board for more than a decade, including four years on the executive committee
- Chicago Funders Together to End Homelessness (CFTEH), a collaborative of more than 30 local philanthropic partners. Debbie helped launch CFTEH and serves on its advisory council, and recently played a leadership role in working with Mayor Johnson’s administration to bring to fruition community advocates’ longtime goal of establishing Chicago’s first-ever Chief Homelessness position. She has also helped establish four new senior level policy positions at the State that will create new and much-needed infrastructure to accelerate the good work being done to advance Home Illinois, the State’s first-ever plan to end homelessness
- Mission Sustainability Initiative at Forefront, which helps nonprofits thrive by providing the resources for leaders to explore collaboration and partnership strategies. Debbie served as the founding co-chair for two years and continues to serve on the grants committee
- AMPT, which provides sustained investment in the capacity of Black- and Latine-led organizations on Chicago’s west and south sides
In 2021, Debbie was appointed by Governor Pritzker to co-chair Illinois’ Community Advisory Council on Homelessness. She is President Emeritus of Albany Park Theater Project, where she served as president of the board for more than a decade, and was named a 2014 American Jewish World Service Global Justice Fellow.
“While Debbie has a standout career supporting high impact work and organizations across the city, it is her lesser-known legacy as a champion for young leaders for which I am eternally grateful,” said Illinois Congresswoman Delia Ramirez. “I met Debbie when I was nineteen years old and had recently been promoted to program director. She listened to me and made a commitment to support me that day — which she has honored every day since. Twenty-one years later, I am who I am today, and I am where I am today, in no small part because of her.”
As a champion for the use of civil legal aid and advocacy as critical tools for creating equity, Debbie advocated for the launch of the Incarcerated Survivors Program, a partnership of the Women’s Justice Institute and Ascend Justice that provides civil legal services to incarcerated survivors of gender-based violence. These services are keeping incarcerated women safer, more connected to their families, and more supported as they re-enter the community. She also worked in collaboration with Chicago Bar Foundation to help grow support for legal aid for people facing eviction, including advocating for a full-scale evaluation of the costs and benefits of implementing a Right to Counsel program in Chicago for people facing eviction. Evaluation results will provide data that could help ensure legal aid for anyone in Chicago who is facing eviction and living on a low income.
Debbie’s leadership helped spur the development of Women’s Justice Initiative’s Reclamation Center, an advocacy, arts and co-working space dedicated to supporting system-impacted women. Her leadership also helped establish the LYTE Collective in Greater Grand Crossing, which serves young adults who are impacted by poverty and homelessness.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Debbie helped launch the Midwest regional office of the New Israel Fund and served as a consultant to nonprofits in the areas of strategy development, fundraising and project management.
“It’s been an incredible privilege to work alongside the providers, advocates and people with lived experience who are so deeply committed to creating a more equitable Chicago,” said Debbie. “I’ve seen the positive impact of their efforts. And while there’s a lot more progress to be made, I am leaving with an optimism that these fierce and dedicated leaders will continue until Chicago is a city where all of our residents thrive.”
Debbie looks forward to adventures with her husband, Vincent, as they take some time to travel. In the meantime, she will continue in her role until May 2024 and contribute to the Foundation’s deep dive to identify how learnings from its increased Equitable Recovery Initiative grantmaking and a focus on racial equity can be more fully and more intentionally infused into the Foundation’s overall grantmaking.