aka COFI   |   Chicago, IL   |


Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) builds the power and voice of parents, primarily mothers and grandmothers from Black and Brown communities, to shape the public decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their families.

Ruling year info


Executive Director

Ms. Ellen Schumer

Main address

2245 S Michigan Ave, Suite 200

Chicago, IL 60616 USA

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NTEE code info

Civil Rights, Social Action, and Advocacy N.E.C. (R99)

Community Improvement, Capacity Building N.E.C. (S99)

Leadership Development (W70)

IRS filing requirement

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

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Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

COFI addresses the problem of increasing racial and economic inequality in the life outcomes of our nation’s children by enabling those most directly and adversely affected by such inequality – parents of color with low incomes – to participate fully and powerfully in civic life and public decision-making. COFI is built on the experiences of legions of low-income parents of color, who have found themselves talked down to, ignored, or blamed by elected and appointed officials, who have, in turn, failed to enact policies that keep poor children safe and healthy, help them stay in school and learn, and house and feed them adequately. COFI addresses this need by building on the rich traditions of community activism in the African American and Latinx communities, creating a unique civic leadership approach for low-income parents of color (particularly mothers and grandmothers) to gain an organized voice in the public decisions that affect them.

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?

Local Leadership Training and Organizing Projects

In partnerships with local groups, COFI builds parent action teams in local schools and neighborhoods, and brings them together in neighborhood networks. Parent teams work together on local goals, and connect emerging leaders to COFI’s citywide, cross-cultural network of parents impacting social and policy changes, POWER-PAC. Over its history, COFI has helped organize more than 70 parent teams in 26 communities throughout Chicago and Illinois and trained over 5,000 low-income parents to become civic leaders, engaging them in public life - many for the first time in their lives. These parent teams also implement parent-led initiatives in schools, including Walking Preschool Buses, through which parent leaders walk preschoolers to and from school who otherwise wouldn't attend, the Early Learning Ambassadors in which parents go door-to-door to spread the word about early learning resources and school-based peace centers to teach children and youth how to resolve conflict without violence.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people

POWER-PAC IL is a multi-racial, multi-cultural, statewide membership organization of low-income parents organized by COFI-trained parent leaders in 2003. The group’s mission is to build a strong voice for low-income, immigrant and working families by uniting parents across race and community around issues of importance to families. POWER-PAC IL members are from throughout Chicago, including the neighborhoods of Austin, Bronzeville, Cabrini, Englewood, Grand Boulevard, Humboldt Park, Lawndale, Little Village, Pilsen, and West Town, as well as the cities of Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin, and Evanston. POWER-PAC IL's current organizing campaigns are:

o Elementary Justice: Redirecting the School-to-Prison Pipeline to eliminate unnecessarily punitive discipline policies and practices that negatively impact children of color in Chicago’s public elementary schools;

o Recess, Food and Health Campaign: Addressing the alarming health disparities for children and families;

o Early Learning Campaign: Reducing structural barriers to enrolling low-income children of color in quality early education programs in Chicago and beyond; and

 o Stepping Out of Poverty Campaign: Organizing for policy changes to increase economic security for low-income families and end the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people

COFI offers a comprehensive training and organizing program to leaders and their organizations, and teams up with organizations and advocacy groups to foster policy change that improves the lives of low-income and working families. We are committed to sharing what we learn about the COFI Way of Family Focused Organizing. COFI has published three training/organizing manuals, has a three-year training program for staff and leaders of organizations, and can provide one-on-one coaching in the model or develop consulting partnerships with a range of organizations. Through the Center, COFI has intensively trained more than 550+ people from 120 organizations nationally. COFI also serves as Lead Partner and Fiscal Sponsor for a national network of parent leaders and parent leadership organizations, called United Parent Leader Action Network - UPLAN.

Population(s) Served

Where we work


Leo P. Chall Award - national recipient for outstanding work to promote the enrollment of low-income children in quality early education programs 2010

Sociological Initiatives Foundation

Maria Mangual Unidas Fund Leadership Award 2009

Chicago Foundation for Women - Latina Leadership Circle

Sophia Cotton Founder's Recognition Award 2022

Illinois Action for Children

Impact Award 2021

Chicago Foundation for Women

Thomas C. Hood Social Action Award 2021

The Society for the Study of Social Problems

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 families reached through peer-to-peer outreach

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Type of Metric

Output - describing our activities and reach

Direction of Success


Context Notes

COFI-trained parent leaders reach out to families through door-knocking and providing information about early brain development, ECE programs, as well as vaccination and solar education outreach.

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.

COFI has a single overarching goal: to increase the civic leadership and engagement of low- income parents of color across the nation to shape the public decisions that directly affect their families’ lives and, in so doing, increase racial (and gender) equity in education, economic, and social outcomes. COFI understands that our nation’s soaring inequality a) is the product of public policy choices (we do not have to have families of color mired in poverty in the US given its rich but maldistributed resources) and b) the voicelessness and powerlessness of low-income families of color in public decision-making ensures this continuing maldistribution of resources. COFI understands that structural racism is embedded in every major institution in the US, public and private, and the lens through which we tackle it is by increasing the voices and power of low-income families of color to gain places at tables in public decision-making. COFI’s operational goals are thus:

• To increase the numbers of low-income parents of color actively participating in the civic arena, with a current focus on Illinois but with an eye to the entire nation;
• To demonstrate, document, and evaluate the efficacy of its organizing approach – called The COFI Way -- in achieving this increase in civic leadership and participation; and
• To share learnings and experiences with others across the nation to encourage them to adapt this approach in increasing the civic engagement of our nation’s most disenfranchised.

COFI has developed a unique civic leadership development model that specifically speaks to the needs and strengths of low income parents of color. The COFI Way of model is comprised of:

• Self, Family & Team Leadership Training and Team Building: a 7-session course that begins with a community visioning exercise and moves into what kinds of leaders and leadership skills are needed to achieve these visions. The training then turns to goal-setting, breaking goals into achievable objectives, asking for and providing mutual support, and balancing personal, family, and public responsibilities. At the conclusion of the 7-week training, the group forms a Parent Action Team and continues to work together to support one another and to improve their schools and communities.
• Community Outreach & Action: five workshops to help Parent Action Team members learn the art of the one-on-one interview and community surveying. Each team reaches out to at least 100 other parents to gain their perspectives on and engage more people in tackling issues that will improve the community’s response to families. The process includes a public meeting such as a Town Hall to build public awareness and support of one or more issues prioritized by outreached parents.
• Policy and Systems Change: workshops and focused trainings that build cross-community power around a wide range of policy and systems change goals set by the parent leaders. Workshops focus on working cross-culturally, the legislative process, strategic planning, public speaking, media relations, alliance building, balancing leadership and family demands, effective meetings with remote technology, and other topics.

COFI implements The COFI Way model through three programs:

• Leadership training and support in local communities, reaching out to parents, training them in the Family Focused model, supporting them in forming action teams and networks of teams to reach evermore parents, and taking actions to improve schools and communities.
• Supporting and facilitating the work of POWER-PAC IL, a statewide membership organization of COFI-trained parents that builds the voice and power of low-income families by uniting parents across race and community around issues of importance to children and families, such as early learning access, educational equity, and family economic security.
• The Center for Action and Learning trains staff of other organizations in Chicago and nationally, trains interested parent leaders as Peer Trainers and Advocates, develops descriptive and evaluative communications about The COFI Way model, and distributes these communications via the website, social media, and press releases. COFI also is lead agency and fiscal agent for a new national network of parent leaders and parent leadership organizations, United Parent Leaders Action Network (UPLAN).

Having 'invented' The COFI Way and the strategies to implement the model, COFI is uniquely capable to achieve its mission and meet its goals. It has encoded the model in three training curricula, recruited and trained staff who can implement it, developed internal evaluative methods to continually fine-tune it, and instituted resource development and communications capacities to sustain funding for the work from individuals, foundations, corporations, and units of government. Today, COFI has a committed, skilled staff of thirteen full-time people and over 50 part-time staff who are able to collectively carry out administrative, programmatic, fundraising, and evaluative work.

Evidence of capability lies in its 26+ year track record, in which over 5,000 low income parents of color – from across over two dozen African American, Latinx, and multi-ethnic communities - have become involved in civic life for the first time in their lives. These parent leaders have, in turn, won:

• 100+ ‘community schools’ (after school programs) funded by Chicago Public Schools, the city, and private philanthropy
• Recess restoration for 266,000 Chicago Public Schools children, and, as of 2021, for all Illinois school children
• Dozens of safe passage patrols, playlots, bus routes, and school facilities improvements benefiting thousands of school children
• The replacement of zero tolerance school discipline policy with restorative justice, first in Chicago and later in Illinois, shutting down the school to prison pipeline for low income children of color
• Outreach to tens of thousands of low income Illinois parents to make them aware of the importance of enrolling their children in quality early learning programs, combined with advocacy for a streamlined early learning application system, generating thousands of new enrollments
• Significant increases in state funding in Illinois for child care assistance, quality early learning programs, and developmental screenings and early intervention for at risk 0-3 year olds
• A Children's Savings Accounts program for Illinois families
• Safeguards in law and regulation to ensure that low income families can afford electricity and avert cutoffs
• Public awareness that low income families of color bore the brunt of public fees and fines, miring them in debt, resulting in significant "financial justice" solutions to reduce/eliminate certain fees
• Town Halls, parent trainings, and parent-to-parent outreach on school improvement, appropriate school discipline, access to health and nutrition resources for low-income parents, child development, and family economic security, reaching tens of thousands of families

COFI has created, tested, encoded, and evaluated The COFI Way model, bringing (as described in Capacity) over 5,000 low-income parents of color into civic leadership and life in the process. COFI has supported these leaders in achieving significant family, community, and public policy changes, briefly noted above. COFI has carefully documented all this work, producing several publications that have been widely circulated, including Policy and Systems Change: The COFI Way, Ask the Experts, and No Decisions About Us Without Us (all found ay And COFI has introduced this model to nearly 600 others nationwide from nonprofits (agencies and community groups), public systems, and acclaimed policy think tanks like the Aspen Institute.

In so doing, COFI is significantly helping change the narrative on the strengths and needs of low-income parents of color, and the imperative of involving them fully and meaningfully in community, school, and systems change. COFI has demonstrated that the authentic voices, experiences, and perspectives of low-income parents of color can appreciably help move the needle in gaining social changes that can and will reduce racial inequality. For example, COFI trained parents were the first significant stakeholder group in the metro area to raise awareness that:

• No recess was harmful to children’s health and a barrier to their learning and social-emotional development
• Mainstream marketing and advertising was ineffective in reaching low income parents of color about child development and early learning, but parent-to-parent outreach was effective
• Low-income children of color were being pushed into the school to prison pipeline via zero tolerance a lot earlier than understood, beginning in pre-school pushout
• Low-income families of color were denied employment and often drowning in debt from noxious fees and fines they could not pay.
Once issues surfaced via the perspectives of low- income parents of color, COFI-trained parent leaders have consistently come up with practical, affordable policy solutions to problems once seen as intractable. Among them:
• Ambassadors, parent leaders trained in outreach who can go door-to-door and to laundromats, grocers, and clinics to help other parents gain access to resources of benefit to their children
• Parent leader seats on community collaboratives, municipal and state level family service and policy initiatives, as full decision-making partners with professionals
• Fee and fine repayment plans based on parent leaders’ research of best practices elsewhere

A final note: last year during a sixth-month period, COFI parent leaders received 168 invitations from think tanks, policy advocates, professional conferences, and provider groups to present their work or bring their perspectives on issues and solutions. Such demand affirms both the accomplishments to date of COFI as well as the need for its growth and sustainability.



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


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Connect with nonprofit leaders


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

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Board of directors
as of 11/14/2023
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board co-chair

Ms. Diane Fager

Chicago Public Schools, Retired

Term: 2016 - 2024

Board co-chair

Ms. Rosazlia Grillier

POWER-PAC IL President Emeritus

Term: 2015 - 2024

Lina Cramer

Wisdom Exchange

Jacky Grimshaw

Center for Neighborhood Technology

Veronica Anderson

Pen Ultimate Consulting, formerly with Catalyst-Chicago

Felipa Mena


Liliana Olayo

POWER-PAC IL and Padres Lideres de Aurora

Lettie Hicks

POWER-PAC IL and Parents United for Change - East St. Louis

Nia Heard-Garris

Lurie Children's Hospital/Northwestern University Medical School

Henrietta Saunders


Tonantzin Carmona

Brookings Institute

Jennifer Cossyleon

Community Change

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 10/13/2023

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.


The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
Gender identity
Female, Not transgender (cisgender)
Sexual orientation
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, or other sexual orientations in the LGBTQIA+ community
Disability status
Person without a disability

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity


Sexual orientation


Equity strategies

Last updated: 08/19/2019

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

  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
  • 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.
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • 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.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.