Link Unlimited Scholars

aka LINK Unlimited   |   Chicago, IL   |  https://www.linkunlimited.org

Mission

LINK Unlimited Scholars' mission is to connect high potential Black students with mentors, resources, and foundational skills required for success as they advance into, through, and beyond college.

Ruling year info

1975

President & CEO

Mr. Jonathan T. Swain

Main address

2221 South State Street

Chicago, IL 60616 USA

Show more contact info

EIN

23-7386928

NTEE code info

Youth Development Programs (O50)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

For Chicago to thrive, all of its young people must have the opportunity to maximize their potential. However, Black students are disproportionately impacted by systemic and structural forces that impede their ability to access their opportunities. Together, we can mitigate the effect of these forces by improving and increasing educational opportunities and access. Our Scholars are actively equipped with the knowledge, skills, resources and social equity that furthers college completion and career placement. As a result, we are increasing the economic mobility and stability of Black students, and we are cultivating a diverse leadership pipeline in our city through LINK Unlimited Scholars.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Academic Enrichment

LINK programming is anchored in services focused on Black students, on a cohort model—ensuring success for each group of Scholars together, individualized support, year-round programming, and increased social equity for all Scholars through connection to a broad community.

Academic enrichment comprises the majority of LINK’s fellowship model, helping high-potential Scholars thrive in academic settings as they work to create and maintain high GPAs and other elements of their academic profiles. This programming is delivered in a culturally responsive way through a six-week Summer Learning Intensive (120 hours of total programming including math, English, and leadership development courses) and ongoing activities during the academic year like monthly Saturday Academies.

Additionally, Scholars have access to year-round tutoring, standardized test prep, and financial subsidies for those attending private institutions. Since 2000, 100% of Scholars served have graduated from high school.

Population(s) Served
People of African descent
Adolescents
Low-income people

Students cultivate leadership development skills with the support of their volunteer Mentor and enrichment activities, which reinforces a strong sense of personal identity, confidence in social relations, and shared values. Scholars take a Summer Learning class where they explore different leadership styles, build leadership skills, and think about how to put those skills into action. They also participate in annual retreats that focus on social emotional learning, mental health, and how to advocate for themselves.

Population(s) Served
People of African descent
Adolescents
Low-income people

Students have the opportunity to explore diverse career pathways and find continuous support year-round as they discover a career that best fits their interests and abilities through:

Career panels - industry-specific panels that feature Black professionals in various positions within the field

How-to workshops - Scholars learn career and life skills through workshops presented by corporate partners and volunteers

Job shadowing/internships - students observe or intern with corporate partners to gain exposure and real world experience in different career fields

Networking - students cultivate a vision for investing their gifts and abilities in their own community and world through their Mentor and their Mentor’s professional connections

Population(s) Served
Low-income people
People of African descent
Adolescents

LINK works with Scholars to navigate personal and academic endeavors to ensure they are accepted and attend highly selective colleges and universities, with minimal out of pocket expense, and successfully obtain the skills to be gainfully employed within six months of graduation.

Scholars are supported through individualized, research-based college advising allowing them to find the best fit school for them academically, personally, and financially. LINK’s collegiate strategy also provides guidance for Scholars in completing their college and FAFSA applications, and exposes Scholars to a variety of school types through panels featuring college admission representatives. 100% of LINK’s Class of 2021 Scholars were accepted into four-year colleges and universities, including 63% of Scholars receiving full-tuition funding. 60% of LINK Scholars have graduated college in four years, as compared to only 21% of Black students nationally.

Population(s) Served
Low-income people
Adolescents
People of African descent

LINK’s mentoring program bolsters the other components of the fellowship model by pairing each Scholar with a LINK Mentor recruited from Chicagoland’s professional community. Mentors commit to building a one-on-one relationship with Scholars for four years, providing encouragement, guidance, coaching, and support. Mentors are supported through development sessions and empowered to act as advocates and allies for historically neglected populations outside of just their LINK relationships.

Population(s) Served
People of African descent
Adolescents
Low-income people

Junior LINK is a program designed to boost college graduation rates for Chicago Public School students by engaging students earlier in their academic journeys. Junior LINK is a two-year fellowship for middle school students that supports them in achieving high GPAs and standardized test scores, key elements of their middle school academic profiles which are an indicator of eventual high school success. This program also provides support to 8th graders in applying to selective enrollment high schools in CPS with a goal to create more access to selective enrollment seats for Black students.

Through Junior LINK, students are provided two years of high school and college prep to help students achieve a lifetime of success through high school selection, academic enrichment, college exposure, and leadership development.

Population(s) Served
People of African descent
Adolescents
Low-income people

Where we work

External assessments

Evaluated via the Impact Genome Project (2019)

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of program participants who receive a secondary school diploma or GED

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

Adolescents, People of African descent, Low-income people

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Holding steady

Context Notes

Since 2000, 100% of Scholars served have graduated high school.

Percentage of students accepted to selective four-year colleges and universities.

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

People of African descent, Low-income people, Adolescents

Related Program

College Access

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Holding steady

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

LINK Unlimited Scholars is a 50-year-old Chicago-based institution working to link high-potential students to educational resources and tools that change the trajectory of their lives by:
- building a foundation and support system to thrive in academic settings
- nurturing voice, agency and confidence to become society’s next generation of leaders
- cultivating career awareness to discover work that is financially fruitful and satisfying
- guiding college selection and application paving the way to a college degree

We work with our participants to navigate personal and academic endeavors to ensure they are accepted and attend highly selective colleges and universities, with minimal out of pocket expense, and successfully obtain the skills to be gainfully employed within six months of graduation. LINK Unlimited Scholars is committed to providing students with opportunities through career exploration, college planning strategies and selection, and enhancing their personal and professional networks.

LINK Scholars are actively equipped with the knowledge, skills, resources and social equity that furthers college completion and career placement in order to increase the economic mobility and stability of Black students in Chicago and create a diverse leadership pipeline for our city.

LINK employs a comprehensive suite of academic, leadership development and other offerings to engage our Scholars throughout their academic careers.

LINK Scholars move through a robust suite of academic enrichment and personal development programming, including after-school tutoring support, ACT prep, college application and financial aid workshops, leadership development, career panels and internship fairs, as well as college tours.

Each Scholar is paired with a LINK Mentor from Chicagoland’s professional community. Mentors commit to building a one-on-one relationship with Scholars for four years, providing encouragement, exposure, and support as they complete their college prep education.

Founded in 1966 to advance Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality, LINK Unlimited Scholars has spent decades changing the trajectory of our high-potential Black Scholars, becoming a highly-respected organization. We currently operate with a staff of 22, and have partnerships with over 40 elementary and high schools in addition to college and career enrichment programs in Chicago.

On both the program and advancement sides of our organization, we have highly qualified staff with years of experience in their respective fields. Our programs team is composed of educators with experience inside and outside the classroom, and led by Black individuals as we approach teaching from a culturally responsive lens. Four of the five members of our leadership team identify as Black, reflecting the community we serve, including being headed by our President & CEO, Jonathan T. Swain. Jonathan is an alumnus of the LINK program and business owner thereby making him a perfect community leader to push our organization forward for LINK Scholars and the city of Chicago.

Additionally, LINK Unlimited Scholars was the 2018 Youth Mentoring Program Impact Award winner from MENTOR Illinois. Out of over 400 mentoring programs in the State of Illinois, LINK was among the top seven percent recognized for excellence by Mentor Illinois (gold star designation). LINK was among the first three agencies to win the Gold Star designation because of its rigorous programming and exceptional outcomes and was also awarded the National Award of Excellence in Educational Access.

Since its founding, LINK Unlimited Scholars has connected over 2,500 Scholars with mentors, academic enrichment, and the fundamental skills required for success into, through, and beyond college.
Most recently, the LINK Class of 2021 achieved the following:

- 100% of the Class of 2021 graduated high school and were accepted into competitive 4-year colleges and universities
- Average GPA of 3.6
- Our high school seniors were offered over $12 million in scholarships and grants, with 71% of the class being offered more than $200,000 each
- 32% attending top 50 colleges and universities in the U.S. (per US News & World Report)
- Three Scholars were awarded full-ride Jordan Wings Scholarships while one student will be a QuestBridge Scholar and another will be a Posse Scholar, to name a few of the prestigious scholarships awarded to our seniors

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • Who are the people you serve with your mission?

    LINK Unlimited Scholars serves high-potential Black students from low- and moderate-income families throughout the Chicagoland area, with 80% of our current families qualifying as low-income. We have a specific recruitment focus on ten under-resourced South and West Side neighborhoods: Auburn Gresham, Austin, Bronzeville, Englewood, Garfield Park, Greater Grand Crossing, North Lawndale, Roseland, South Shore, and Washington Park. To be eligible for LINK programming, Scholars demonstrate strong records of academic success amongst other qualities including an interest in pursuing post-secondary education.

  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    Electronic surveys (by email, tablet, etc.), Focus groups or interviews (by phone or in person), Case management notes, Community meetings/Town halls, Constituent (client or resident, etc.) advisory committees,

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To identify where we are less inclusive or equitable across demographic groups, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals,

  • What significant change resulted from feedback?

    On the end of year survey, Scholars indicated that they overall felt valued by their Mentors but did not feel like their Mentors understood them. They also shared that they wanted to know more about their Mentors’ strengths and for their Mentor to know their strengths. So we adjusted Mentor trainings to share, analyze, and discuss the Scholar feedback. We also included more opportunities for Mentors to explore how their identity connects to their experiences, perceptions, and worldview. Additionally, in the workshops, Mentors explore how their perceptions and orientations impact their interactions with Scholars and expectations. We’ve now included Mentor/mentee goal-sheets so they have more conversations around strengths, expectations, relationship challenges, goals, and next steps.

  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    The people we serve, Our staff, Our board, Our funders, Our community partners, Volunteers,

  • How has asking for feedback from the people you serve changed your relationship?

    We have been using and are currently improving the ways we use student feedback to improve our programming to meet Scholar needs. For example, we survey Scholars to know their interests and goals, which influences career panel topics and career workshops. We are in the process of using the feedback to revamp our curriculum, ensuring programming feels more relevant. For example, in a recent meeting seniors shared that they felt overwhelmed with having to read a book and prepare for discussions in Saturday Academy during the first semester because that was also when many of their scholarships and college applications were due. So we adjusted the expectations, engaging in discussions around relevant topics related to the book without Scholars having to read the book before class.

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We collect feedback from the people we serve at least annually, We take steps to get feedback from marginalized or under-represented people, We aim to collect feedback from as many people we serve as possible, We take steps to ensure people feel comfortable being honest with us, We look for patterns in feedback based on demographics (e.g., race, age, gender, etc.), We look for patterns in feedback based on people’s interactions with us (e.g., site, frequency of service, etc.), We engage the people who provide feedback in looking for ways we can improve in response, We act on the feedback we receive, We tell the people who gave us feedback how we acted on their feedback,

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    We don't have any major challenges to collecting feedback,

Financials

Link Unlimited Scholars
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

Link Unlimited Scholars

Board of directors
as of 1/26/2022
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mr. Steve Hackney

Kirkland & Ellis, LLP

Term: 2018 -

Brent Baccus

Washington, Pittman, McKeever

Robert Griggs

Wear RobReynolds

Kenneth Johnson

Winston & Strawn LLP

Torrence Moore

LISC Chicago

David Neithercut

Equity Residential

Matthew Panzica

BDO USA, LLP

Michael Revord

Aldine Capital Partner, Inc.

Franklin Reynolds

Amazon Web Services

Gilda Spencer

Julie Welborn

LaSalle Street Church

Heidi Albert

William Blair

Anthony Ashe

United States Steel

Allen Ashley

DLA Piper LLP

Nancy Baker

Chicago Area College Access Counselors

Marcy Carlin

Essex Investment Management

Daniel Cox

Purpeller

Jason DeJonker

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP

Bill Fausone

Colliers International Chicago

Nicholas Freeman

Innovare Social Innovation Partners

Thomas Hynes

Mesirow

LeeAndra Khan

Epic Academy

Aisha Lavinier

Kirkland & Ellis LLP

Angela Miller-May

Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund

Robert Griggs

Metra

Craig Richey

Accenture

Julie Welborn

LaSalle Street Church

Ciere Boatright

CRG (Clayco)

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 01/26/2022

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Black/African American/African
Gender identity
Male, Not transgender (cisgender)

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

 

Sexual orientation

No data

Disability

No data

Equity strategies

Last updated: 12/01/2021

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

Data
  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • We ask team members to identify racial disparities in their programs and / or portfolios.
  • We analyze disaggregated data and root causes of race disparities that impact the organization's programs, portfolios, and the populations served.
  • We disaggregate data to adjust programming goals to keep pace with changing needs of the communities we support.
  • We employ non-traditional ways of gathering feedback on programs and trainings, which may include interviews, roundtables, and external reviews with/by community stakeholders.
  • We disaggregate data by demographics, including race, in every policy and program measured.
Policies and processes
  • We use a vetting process to identify vendors and partners that share our commitment to race equity.
  • We have a promotion process that anticipates and mitigates implicit and explicit biases about people of color serving in leadership positions.
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We help senior leadership understand how to be inclusive leaders with learning approaches that emphasize reflection, iteration, and adaptability.