Internet’s highest honor

We’re honored that Small Forces has been nominated for a Webby Award for Best Video Series: Public Service & Activism! We are proud to see our work recognized among many talented peers, as well as provide a platform for our partner organizations to shine.

Hailed as the “Internet’s highest honor” by The New York Times, The Webby Awards, presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (IADAS), is the leading international awards organization honoring excellence on the Internet. Our nomination puts Small Forces at the top of more than 13,000 entries for awards this year, the Webby’s 24th year.

In addition to the Webby Award selected by the IADAS, Small Forces is eligible to win a Webby People’s Voice Award, which is voted online by fans across the globe. That’s where you come in!

From now through May 7th at 11:59 pm ET, Small Forces supporters can cast their votes here!

You are able to vote once per e-mail address. Please note, you MUST confirm the link that gets sent to your e-mail address for your vote to count!

Thank you for all of your support of Small Forces! We hope that with more exposure we can continue to inspire people with our mission: Small Forces Make Big Change!

Breaking down barriers to employment

Chicago’s Community Kitchens

Housed within the The Greater Chicago Food Depository, Chicago’s Community Kitchens is a culinary training and professional development program all in one. CCK’s 14-week training and job placement program is a free and accessible resource for the Chicago community. There are multiple ways to donate. The program welcomes monetary donations via their website. You can help them run their kitchen and work to end hunger in Cook County by giving to one their virtual food drives. Have a little leftover from Thanksgiving? Know others that do too? You can also organize your very own food drive, in-person or online. Check out their website for even more ways to volunteer and lend a hand.

Link to Donate

Curt’s Cafe

Curt’s Cafe aims to create opportunities and provide professional education to at-risk youth through their not-for-profit cafe business model, serving up a menu of coffee, pastries, sandwiches, catering, and more. Employing young adults in the community, Curt’s Cafe staff receive essential training and work experience they can use to jump-start their career. Curt’s Cafe has expanded to include a new location in Highland Park. Donations to Curt’s Cafe support a unique community based non-profit working towards building a better community, creating employment opportunities and delicious food all at once.

Link to Donate

Rebuilding Exchange

Rebuilding Exchange is a multi-layered social enterprise. A source of affordable reclaimed building materials for the Chicago community, Rebuilding Exchange also provides job-training in the construction industry to those with barriers to employment. Donations to Rebuilding Exchange will help them reach their 2025 goal of helping 10 thousand people with professional education, and diverting 30 million pounds of materials from landfills. A local powerhouse organization, Rebuilding Exchange is making waves in sustainable living while tearing down barriers to employment.

Link to Donate

Breaking down barriers to education

The Listening

If you had a room full of people willing to listen, what would you say? This question is what drives The Listening forward. Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, The Listening uses arts to enact change. Taking on the role of a safe creative space for youth and adults in their community, The Listening provides arts and social action education through their summer program Freedom School and year-round artist-led events. This Giving Tuesday, The Listening invites you to participate in A Room Full of People, their peer-to-peer campaign. Give directly to the campaign or promote it on your own. Contributions to The Listening are put towards Freedom School programming, events, and expanding their growing reach. You can also head to their online store for their signature t-shirts or donate directly through their website

Link to Donate

The Viola Project

At The Viola Project, Shakespearean theatre and female empowerment intersect to create social change. A stage historically reserved for men, The Viola Project uses Shakespeare to empower girls of today. Donations to The Viola Project will support this female-focused educational program’s scholarships, accessibility, development, teaching, and college apprenticeship initiatives. Head to their website or visit their Facebook page to support The Viola Project.

Link to Donate

Breaking down barriers to community connection

Exodus World Service

Inspired by Christian beliefs to help local neighbors, Exodus World Service answers the call to action by lending support to refugees as they transition into a new life. This year alone they served more than 2,000 refugees and trained close to 6,000 volunteers in the Chicago community. Donations to Exodus World Service help build various welcome packs for refugees and allow them to connect with congregations throughout Chicagoland and beyond. Donate here to help Exodus World Service end 2019 with an even greater impact, or become a volunteer to welcome refugees this holiday season.

Link to Donate

Parents for Peace and Justice

Parents for Peace and Justice are fighting to end the violence epidemic plaguing underprivileged neighborhoods of Chicago. Born out of one mother’s cry for help after the loss of her son, Parents for Peace and Justice offers anti-violence and therapy programming for victims of violence and their families. Donations to Parents for Peace and Justice will go toward supporting their youth programs, such as leadership sports camps for children in at-risk communities hosted with partners like Pro Sports Experience and the NFL Alumni Network, and community mental health resources.

Link to Donate

Women of Alabaster

Dedicated to serving victims of human trafficking, prostitution and drug abuse, Women of Alabaster helps women in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky transition from life on the streets by providing essential resources: shelter, food, and compassion. In addition to supporting current programs and aid, donations will help Women of Alabaster extend their reach and achieve their goal of opening a new shelter facility outside the city with enough room to provide for 20-30 women. They also accept in-kind donations and welcome volunteers.

Link to Donate

Our film ‘BT Lives in the Stitch’ received the most votes during the two-week festival

We are pleased to announce that Small Forces won the Most Popular Film Award for BT Lives in the Stitch in the 8th Annual PBS Online Film Festival. Among the festival’s 25 short-form independent films, we were honored to have two pieces that were nominated in partnership with Illinois Public Media. Thank you for sharing and voting for both of our stories during the two-week festival.

BT Lives in the Stitch takes viewers to North Lawndale College Prep, a high school located on the south side of Chicago, in a neighborhood notable more for urban blight than quality education. Then, teacher Dorothea Tobin introduced the BT Lives in the Stitch program, creating community and safe haven amongst an unlikely group of teens. Heroine of Hope (the second film nominated) addresses the opioid crisis in America, telling the story of Scarlet Hudson, a woman who left her career to help women in her community caught in the abusive cycle of addiction and sex trafficking. Both films follow the Small Forces mission to showcase people and organizations making a difference in their communities. 

This summer, viewers watched, shared and voted for their favorite film to win the “Most Popular” award. Overall, the 2019 festival garnered more than 2 million streams. The films are still available via PBS and station digital platforms, including, and are also available to stream on YouTube and Facebook

Our Small Forces team was impressed with the outreach we received from PBS viewers, many of whom offered to send donations to Ms. Tobin and her knitting group. The impact of this festival will ripple for long after the last vote was cast. 

For more on the festival, visit

Among the festival’s 25 short-form independent films, “Heroine of Hope” and “BT Lives the Stitch” will be open for public viewing and voting July 15th – July 26th.

Two of our Small Forces films have been selected for the 8th Annual PBS Online Film Festival. The PBS Online Film Festival is part of a multi-platform initiative to increase the reach and visibility of independent filmmakers, and to provide a showcase for diverse storytelling that both inspires and engages.

The two films follow the Small Forces mission to showcase people and organizations making a difference in their communities. “Heroine of Hope” addresses the opioid crisis in America, telling the story of Scarlet Hudson, a woman who left her career to help women in her community caught in the abusive cycle of addiction and sex trafficking. “BT Lives in the Stitch” takes viewers to North Lawndale College Prep, a high school located on the south side of Chicago, in a neighborhood notable more for urban blight than quality education. Then, teacher Dorothea Tobin introduced the BT Lives in the Stitch program, creating community and safe haven amongst an unlikely group of teens.

Starting July 15, viewers can watch, share and vote for their favorite film to win the “Most Popular” award. In addition, a distinguished panel of eight jury members will select their favorite film of the festival for the “Juried Prize.”

Our filmmaking team conducted a Q & A about impact filmmaking with PBS. You can read the interview here.

You can vote every day between now and July 26th at by clicking the blue “vote” button under the video module. You can vote for multiple films.

Follow the Small Forces Facebook page for reminders to vote!

For updates on the festival, follow #PBSFilmFest on Twitter or visit

We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy the selection of films in the festival!

Watch the story:
Watch the story:

Katie Prentiss Onsager wrote about the amplifying power of a story well-told for the nonprofit focused journal.

Small Forces worked with the Philanthropy Journal News to share our expertise about video storytelling for nonprofits.

Our goal with this piece was to share with the nonprofit audience how they can work storytelling into their existing infrastructure, and how they can leverage their videos to create results.

“Organizations can start the process of telling the stories of their work by focusing their efforts on their most quality programs, spotlighting the people who most benefit from their efforts, and staying in contact with the success stories for years after they leave your care.”

Read the whole article here:

Katie Prentiss Onsager and Jamie Fleischel of Small Forces were interviewed by the Nonprofit Leadership Podcast.

Hosted by Dr. Rob Harter, the podcast features real stories from leaders about what strategies and practices have made them successful. The goal of the series is for people to learn not only what it takes to be an effective non-profit leader but also to hear inspiring stories about people and organizations that are successfully making a positive impact in their communities.

We were honored to be selected to talk about the importance of video storytelling in nonprofits, and how nonprofits with low budgets can still take steps to start telling their stories.

You can listen to the full podcast episode here:

The Chicago Tribune-owned blog featured Small Forces’ efforts to highlight local nonprofits.

We are excited to spread our Small Forces mission to the readers of Chicago Now.

The publication wrote of Small Forces: “Their belief that every single person is a small force who can make extraordinary things happen, utilizing the intrinsic power of good and letting it echo outward into the community is what propels them to help small nonprofits and organizations increase their impact.”

They also spotlighted The Floured Apron and embedded their Small Forces story in the article.

You can read the full story here.

Watch the story:

Crime in American cities has fallen significantly over the past two decades. Patrick Sharkey, the chair of NYU’s sociology department and the scientific director of Crime Lab New York, examines the factors that contributed to that decline. He spoke with Small Forces about his new book, Uneasy Peace, the fall in the crime rate, and how community organizations contributed to that fall. Listen to the whole conversation and read excerpts below.

Small Forces

From the study you did, Community and the Crime Decline, the statistic was “Every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9% reduction in the murder rate, a 6% reduction ins the violent crime rate, and a 4% reduction in the property crime rate,” which feels significant.

Patrick Sharkey

It’s a strong impact. It means these organizations did not account for the full drop in violence, it wasn’t just the emergence of these organizations that mattered, but it’s a big part of the story and that’s our best way to package the results so that people can have a sense for what they mean, but essentially if you try and think about it in a small city with 100,000 every nonprofit that forms specifically to build a stronger neighborhood, to confront violence, you can expect that that organization, on average, will reduce violence by about 1%. That’s not a mind- blowing number. It doesn’t mean that you have 1 organization and the whole city changes, but when you have a proliferation of these organizations, when they expand on a large scale, when they start to emerge in different neighborhoods that have never had that institutional base, that’s how neighborhoods are stabilized and that’s how cities start to confront violence crime.

Small Forces

What mechanisms lead nonprofits to success in reducing crime?

Patrick Sharkey

There are several types of mechanisms. One is that many nonprofits confront violence directly. They specifically worked to take back city streets. Cure Violence is an example. It’s programs are specifically trying to intervene within a network of violent incidents or individuals who are heavily engaged with violence and interrupt that network. Then there’s a broader set of functions. They connect people to each other. One of the things we know from a long tradition of research in urban sociology is when residents are connected together, when there’s a tight network that links representatives of the state – meaning police officers, city government representatives, department of sanitation, the city council member, members of local law enforcement – when they are linked up with members of social service agencies, members of a nonprofit sector, leaders of core institutions like religious congregations, when they are all linked up with residents, that is a recipe for building a strong neighborhood and controlling violence. So what these organizations do is they link people together. They not only provide direct services to people but they look out over the community, they link people together, and they create this tight network that has been shown over and over to build strong neighborhoods and reduce violence. The interesting thing is this idea is really well developed in urban sociology and has strong evidence behind it, but it just hasn’t been brought into discussions about why violence fell, and that’s why I started on that line of work because I wanted to see whether this proliferation of nonprofit organizations played a role, and so we generated as rigorous evidence as we could, and we put that evidence to the test and did as much as we could to make sure that it was conclusive and the evidence is really strong. The emergence of the nonprofit sector in the 1990s played a very strong causal role in contributing to the crime drop.

Small Forces

One of the most interesting concepts presented in your book was that of the “community quarterback” – in other words a community leader who takes care of the community. This person is often under-resourced. That’s something that we’ve seen time and time again. There’s a man named Robert Torres that we have started working with in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood in Chicago, where violence is rising, and he’s out there. His organization is called Parents for Peace and Justice. He’s trying to help parents get justice for their kids, but also establish peace through programming for kids, whether that be sports, music, etc. And he’s out there making connections, making it happen, pounding the pavement, as he’s also just a small business owner, who lives in that neighborhood, and wants it to be safer for his kids. So my question is, do you envision a future where local governments, state governments are allocating more funds for these community groups, these quarterbacks? How should these external factors be investing in these quarterbacks?

Patrick Sharkey

That’s a good example. I think there are a bunch of neighborhoods across the country that have these organizations, but they are struggling to survive. They are struggling to get funding. They are struggling to make sure that they are on stable footing so that they’ll be there for the long term. And that’s essential challenge for the nonprofit sector in general. What I argue at the end of the book is that, the real fundamental challenge is the challenge of urban poverty and urban inequality. That said, the short term challenge is to make sure that every neighborhood is on a stable foundation and has these kinds of organizations and there’s a much better change that neighborhoods will not go downhill if they have this strong institutional base, if they have an organization like Parents for Peace and Justice, looking out across the entire community, and making sure that they know every kid, they are looking out to make sure those kids know that they have a mentor, that they have somebody there they can go to if they have a problem. They have a safe space they can go to if they are in trouble. Those organizations are fundamental. How do you do it? That’s a much harder question. At certain points, both the federal and state governments have made major contributions to the nonprofit sector and have made it possible for these kinds of organizations to plan for the long term, to have some consistent source of funding to know they’ll be there in 10 years. I think more and more, this is unfortunate, but I do think it is the reality, a lot of organizations are relying on other sources of funding, so one of the by products of rising inequality is there is a new class of philanthropists who have the potential to really create transformative change, on a scale that is at least at this moment very unlikely with the government, so I come to this uncomfortable conclusion that in the short term, we have to do everything we can to create a network of actors within cities who are dedicated to confronting violence, and this means city government, local philanthropists, this means universities, it means core institutions, hospitals, schools, need to come together and make sure there is that community quarterback.

Listen to more of the conversation with Patrick Sharkey above. To learn more about the concepts we discuss, and more about his research into urban crime, read his new book, Uneasy Peace.

There are lots of ways to give back this season, from volunteering with a local non-profit, to financially supporting organizations you believe in, to buying gifts that give back too! Here is your 2017 Small Forces guide to Holiday Giving.

Gifts that give back

Felix’s Famous Cookies

Felix has been making delicious cookies for good causes since 2014.  Every month, Felix chooses a different charitable organizations to donate the profits from his cookie selling business to, and the holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to get someone the gifts of sweet treats while also giving back to a worthy cause, a real win-win!  Felix offers a variety of flavors of the traditional Mexican cookies he learned to make from his grandmother and they can be ordered on their website here.

The proceeds for the rest of the year go to support My Block, My Hood, My City

View the collection

Giving Rocks

Giving Rocks raises money for LCH pediatric cancer research through the sale of beautiful stone necklaces made from rocks found right on the shores of Lake Michigan. These necklaces make a great gift but even if you aren’t shopping for the jewelry type, they sell holiday ornaments made from the rocks as well!  100% of proceeds will go toward funding research, making this a great way to spread joy this holiday season, while also spreading hope for the future.  

View the collection

Your time and talent

Organize a Book Drive for Open Books

Are you having friends and family over for the holidays? Ask them to bring books they no longer need in lieu of a hostess gift. Or, gather your kids for an afternoon of organizing the family bookshelves, putting aside books that can be donated.

Open Books focuses on expanding literacy and interest in reading by distributing donated books to children in the Chicago area. They strive to spread the “transformative impact of literacy” through reading and writing programs, special events and volunteer engagement Books are some of the best gifts you can give a child as it gives them an opportunity to learn and grow.

Schedule a pick up

Donations that count

Energize for your Christmas Shopping at Curt’s Cafe in Evanston

If you donate $50 or more on Giving Tuesday to Curt’s Cafe and their mission of improving outcomes for young adults in at-risk situations through work and life skills training, you can receive a free coffee and scone at one of their two cafes!

Learn More

Greater Chicago Food Depository

This charitable organization serves as the principal food bank for the greater Chicago area as a partner of Feeding America. They serve over 160,000 meals a day to people in need and will need the help of both monetary and food donations to make sure that everyone is happy this Holiday season, not hungry. Donations go directly towards providing meals for families in need but also help support job training programs throughout the city.

Learn More

The Floured Apron

This organization aims to teach professional cooking and baking skills to women in underserved communities in order help them secure a sustainable career in the culinary field and create a better life for themselves. This holiday season, you can purchase cakes or cookies for any occasion from the kitchens of The Floured Apron and all of the proceeds will go directly towards supporting the women in the program.

Donate Now

Exodus World Service

Support this Small Forces partner as they also mount a #GivingTuesday campaign (Nov 28) to raise funds to help refugee families in our communities rebuild their lives. Your gift will help with welcoming new refugee families with housing supplies as well as continue to support other families already settled in the area but still in need. Exodus World Service offers a great way to spread the holiday spirit to even our newest of neighbors.

Donate Now

One year ago we launched Small Forces, inspired by our guiding principle that people and organizations working at a grassroots level can make a bigmpact on their communities. It’s our mission to amplify their voices with one of the most important modern tools: a professional video story.

Since then, we’ve traveled across the country, and world, to find and tell these stories of optimism, hard work, and success in the face of insurmountable challenges.

Today, we still believe Small Forces Make Big Change. We have seen it time and time again. We feel lucky and grateful to meet the people who embody this motto, and are uplifted by their courage and action.

We look to Charles Lee, founder of That’s My Child, who turned his hot dog business into a life of serving his community in Montgomery, AL, and now helps hundreds of kids with mentorship, after school programs, and more.

We feel the power of Paradise City Dragon Boat, a team of breast cancer survivors in Northampton, MA coming together to support each other, and their own physical health.

There’s CJ, teaching his photography skills to inmates at Cook County Jail.

Gina, a mom advocating for her children, and all children with Rare and Undiagnosed diseases through the Rare & Undiagnosed Network.

High school coaches engaging their athletes in conversations about standing up against sexual assault.

These are just a few of the many examples, and all of them are on our site

We have so many inspiring stories in store for our second year, as well as new initiatives we can’t wait to tell you about. If you want to be the first to learn about those, please sign up for our newsletter at

In the meantime, thank you for following along in our first year. We hope you’ve been as inspired as we have to be a small force for big change in our world.