Building Beyond the Barriers: Community Grant


Facilitated by the Campus-Community Compact to Accelerate Social Justice (Compact), Building Beyond the Barriers will forge vibrant, co-equal partnerships between community and campus teams who will work together to combat racism and systemic injustice in Champaign County. The Compact recognizes that challenges of equity, access, and social justice here in our community are simply too large for any individual or single organization to overcome alone. Building Beyond the Barriers will foster opportunities for teams to leverage their creative expertise- both from community and campus perspectives- to address problems in six key focus areas: Accessible Technology; Community Health, Wellness, and Resilience; Community Relations; Economic Development; Inclusive Education, and Workforce Development. Building Beyond the Barriers will award $100,000 of funding. Grant range is $10,000-$30,000.

Building Beyond the Barriers will:

  • Increase opportunities for campus and community members to engage and collaborate to accelerate social justice in Champaign County.
  • Support social justice work or progress in the six Compact focus areas in Champaign County.
  • Connect project teams with resources and tools to accomplish project goals.
  • Invest in campus-community relationships.
  • Build trusting relationships that enhance collaborative work between campus and community partners.

These program goals are focused on developing co-equal partnerships between community stakeholders. While campus stakeholders can certainly leverage their research expertise to contribute to a project, Building Beyond the Barriers is not a research funding opportunity. Funds are intended to support projects and programs in Champaign County.

2024 Winners

Building Windows and Mirrors: Fostering a Partnership between Rantoul City Schools and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Project Team

Focus Area: Community Health, Wellness, and Resilience, Community Relations, Inclusive Education, Workforce Development
Amount Committed: $5,000.00
Executive Summary: Collaborative Music Studio at Rantoul’s Rise Academy

Project Team. Left to right: DeAndre Henderson; Principal, RISE Academy Rantoul City Schools 137; Kevin Tan, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Engagement, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Associate Professor, School of Social Work

Project Summary: The Building Windows and Mirrors project will foster transformative and inclusive opportunities for young Rantoul students through nurturing a partnership with the University of Illinois. Led by Social Work, this project aims to inject campus support and resources into Rantoul’s Rise Academy, a newly launched alternative school program for middle school students. The “windows” of opportunities offered by this university-community partnership and the “mirrors” of empowerment through the interactions between our university and Rantoul students will collectively foster a transformative and collaborative partnership where diverse perspectives are celebrated, individual strengths are recognized, and a sense of community and self-worth is instilled in every student. Funds will provide a small startup amount ($5,000) to support Rise Academy’s vision of creating a music studio where Rantoul students have the opportunity to produce their own music, guided by our university students.

Concurrently, events for engaging Rantoul’s parents will also be organized, offering them a glimpse into the potential futures their children could embrace at the University of Illinois. Parenting sessions will be integrated and informational sessions on our Illinois Commitment will be organized, empowering parents to become advocates for the windows and mirrors that they will shape over the course of their children’s educational journey.

This campus-community partnership endeavors to be the catalyst for change in Rantoul, creating a system that not only recognizes but celebrates the uniqueness of each student. Through windows of opportunity and mirrors of empowerment, Rantoul City Schools are poised to become a beacon of inspiration and innovation in education.

Community Relations for Resilience, Wellness, and Creativity: Champaign County Community (CCC) Maker-in-Residence

Focus Area: Community Health, Wellness, and Resilience, Community Relations, Inclusive Education, Workforce Development
Amount Committed: $29,293.00
Executive Summary: Maker-in-Residence Program to Promote Community Relations and Wellness

Project Summary: The campus and community partners of the Champaign-Urbana Community (CUC) Fab Lab (primary campus partner), The Urbana Free Library (primary community partner), Urbana Arts and Culture Program, Grainger IDEA Lab, and the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC) propose the launch of the Champaign County Community (CCC) Maker-in-Residence program—a collaborative partnership that connects maker communities in Champaign County. In our community and campus, different makerspaces and groups foster hands-on and creative engagement in various domains. These spaces provide access to fabrication technologies, such as crafts, electronics, textiles, computing, 3D printing, woodworking, laser cutting tools, and more. Moving beyond DIY (Do-it-yourself) to a collaborative DIWO (Do-it-with-others) ethos, the contemporary maker movement nurtures social opportunities and a sense of community. Research shows that making not only promotes STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) learning, but also contributes to an individual’s mental health and overall well-being. Moreover, the human-centered approach to making cultivates qualities crucial in today’s worlds–physical interactions, empathy, resilience, and perseverance. This proposed Maker-in-Residence program will (1) forge stronger connections between on- and off-campus maker communities, (2) support makers from diverse backgrounds, who will bridge different maker communities and share unique local maker culture and skills with the broader community, and (3) inspire creativity and skill development among Champaign County residents by lowering barriers to making through partnerships. We anticipate that the Maker-in-Residence program will foster a more connected, resilient, and culturally vibrant community.

Project Team. Left to right: Top row: Elisandro Cabada, Grainger IDEA Lab; Vivian Krishnan, Program Specialist, Urbana Arts and Culture Program; Middle: Lauren Chambers, The Urbana Free Library; Bottom row: Kyungwon Koh, Ph.D., Director, Champaign Urbana Community Fab Lab, Associate Professor, iSchool; Miriam Larson, Urbana Independent Media Center

Girls2STEM 2.0: Leveling Up Access to Tech

Focus Area: Accessible Technology, Community Health, Wellness, and Resilience, Inclusive Education
Amount Committed: $21,835.00
Executive Summary: STEAM Maker Space for Local Girls at the Well Experience

Participants in the STEAM Connected Spaces Project work with Stephanie Cockrell at The Well Experience. Project Team. Far right: Stephanie Cockrell, Executive Director, The Well Experience. Not pictured: Lara Hebert, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, Grainger College of Engineering; Ashita Bawankule, Graduate Student Grainger College of Engineering

Project Summary: Girls2STEM 2.0 will establish a STEAMtastic makerspace within The Well Experience (TWE) with equipment for teenage students to be able to explore various avenues in STEAM, such as 3D printing, circuitry, and programming. This includes setting up a sustainable set of resources like laptops and 3D printers and converting a specific space in TWE. This space will be transformed in collaboration with the students, providing a sense of ownership. Using their knowledge and experience, teenage students will assume leadership positions in the STEAM community. Additionally, three events at TWE during the spring semester will empower the teen girls to lead younger K-5 students and their families in STEAM activities during TWE’s Family Connection Nights, accompanied by a meal and community-building activity. This enhances STEM learning for all participants in a culturally sensitive environment where families already feel safe and connected. University of Illinois students will support the teenage Girls2STEM participants in developing their leadership skills, continuing to develop the partnership between the community and university organizations. These events will spark STEAM interest within families, engage younger students in STEAM activities, develop teenage students’ mentorship skills, and expand university and community partnerships.

Healing Spaces

Focus Area: Inclusive Education
Amount Committed: $10,000.00
Executive Summary: Youth Empowerment Program for African American Girls and Boys in Unit 4 High Schools

Project Summary: Since 2020, Sam Smith has worked with Sheldon Turner at Centennial High School to host weekly support sessions for a group of African American males called Healing Spaces in order to buffer challenges the youth experience in school, community and at home. Youth who are justice involved, who have poor attendance, and are involved in street life are recommended for participation.

This Building Beyond Barriers project seeks to build upon the successful model from Centennial high school and to develop a corollary Healing Spaces for African American girls by organizing three additional groups including:

  • A Healing Spaces female group at each high school containing up to 25 African American girls each.
  • A Healing Spaces male group of 25 students at Central High School.
  • Identifying, engaging, and supporting a community of girls and women from the school, local and campus communities to convene, catalyze and contain the younger women.

Recognizing the agency and capacity of young women to effect change in their own lives and to positively affect the women’s community of their school. In Black Feminist literature this is the practice of building community. Building upon the districts standards of culturally responsive teaching and learning Healing Spaces will plan programming that is fun, Black girl-centered, and focused on promoting self-awareness and positive relationships with others, understanding systems of oppression, promoting the co-creation and agency of participating students, promoting student advocacy and civic practice, and recognizing student’s individuality. Healing Spaces in collaboration with Krannert Center will plan two assemblies at each school (Fall & Spring) that feature female performing artists. The artist’s presentation will include school-based engagement activities (lecture/demo, workshops) and performances.

Street College: Studio Saturdays

Focus Area: Accessible Technology
Amount Committed: $12,500.00
Executive Summary: Laptops for Community Youth Programming at the Hip-Hop Innovation Center

Project team. Left to right: Dr. William M. Patterson, Director of Community-Centered Scholarship Hip Hop Innovation Center, Clinical Associate Professor School of Music, Chief Curriculum Officer Street College; Professor Lamont Holden, Director of Artist Development Hip-Hop Innovation Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Audio & Recording Technologies, School of Music; Dr. Adam J. Kruse, Director of Curriculum & Educational Partnerships Hip-Hop Innovation Center, Associate Professor of Music Education, School of Music

Project Summary: Street College: Studio Saturdays will be a free weekly youth program focused on the ingenuity of Black American musical traditions, innovative digital technologies, and creative expression within a supportive artistic community. Street College is an umbrella program of community-oriented offerings from the nonprofit community organization, STEAM Genius ( The Studio Saturdays program within STEAM Genius’s Street College offerings is a partnership between STEAM Genius, the University of Illinois School of Music, and the new Hip-Hop Innovation Center. The Hip-Hop Innovation Center is an interdisciplinary home for Hip-Hop programs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) centered on artist development, community-oriented scholarship, educational partnerships, and degree programs and course offerings.

Members of the above partner organizations – primarily Professor Lamont Holden, Dr. Adam Kruse, and Dr. William Patterson – are organizing Studio Saturdays in response to established community interest in youth programming related to Hip-Hop, Black American culture, technology, arts, and education. In particular, Professor Holden and Dr. Kruse have been co-directing the Illinois Summer Youth Music (ISYM) Hip-Hop Camp on the UIUC campus in the School of Music – where both are on the faculty – since 2017. After many successful years of engaging with youth in high level music making in a radically supportive community setting, parents and campers alike have been consistently requesting additional programming during the rest of the year. Studio Saturdays aims to meet this need as well as make broader contributions to Hip-Hop based educational programming and Afrocentric initiatives in our community. To make Studio Saturdays accessible to any student, this request of the Building Beyond Barriers Grant seeks to add a set of laptop computers to the project.

Tending to Our Roots to Increase Our Wellness (TRIOWell): A Community Gardening Program

Focus Area: Community Health, Wellness, and Resilience
Amount Committed: $16,621.00
Executive Summary: Community Garden to Improve Health and Wellness for African American Women

Project Summary: Tending to Our Roots to Increase Our Wellness (TRIOWell), will expand an 8-week community gardening program for African American (AA) women that ran in partnership with the Randolph Street Community Garden in Champaign, IL during summer 2023. TRIOWell was designed to increase physical activity, socialization, and fruit and vegetable consumption among middle-aged AA women, as evidence shows that approximately 60% of AA women are physically inactive and have low diet quality. TRIOWell consisted of twice-weekly, 1-hour, horticultural educator-led gardening sessions and 30-minute discussion sessions on topics such as “Community as Social Support,” “Barriers and Assets of Physical Activity,” and “Environmental Activism.” The discussion sessions included a novel approach to cultural tailoring by embedding Black history knowledge within the context of community gardening and physical activity. 

The program will meet once weekly on Saturdays for 2 hours per session for a total of 20 weeks.  Offering the program once a week will increase attendance  to the program and turning it into a 20-week program will provide participants with an opportunity to engage in several months of gardening, thereby providing more opportunities to engage in physical activity and socialization activities. During the first hour, our horticultural educator will lead the gardening sessions and during the second hour a graduate student will lead the discussion sessions. The gardening sessions will include selecting seeds, building the greenhouse, and prepping and building the plots. We have also added four additional sessions. Two sessions will include yoga in the garden as this is a physical activity that past participants and our community partners are interested in promoting. Two sessions will take place in the metabolic kitchen in Freer Hall at the University of Illinois. These sessions will enhance collaborations between the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health and the Randolph Street Community Garden. Ms. Blackman and Dr. Aguiñaga will co-lead these sessions. Ms. Blackman will lead the first hour on food preservation techniques, and Dr. Aguiñaga will lead the second hour on physical activity and share information regarding the Department’s programs. 


Project team. Left to right: Susie Anguinaga, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health; Vanesu Jakachira, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Department of Psychology; Dawn Blackman Sr., Associate Minister and Garden Steward, Randolph Street Community Garden; and Imani Canton, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health


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