NonprofitVOTE Featured Organization: EZRA Multi-Service Center

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On National Voter Registration Day, September 27th, 2016, volunteers and organizers from across the country will unite in a coordinated, one-day effort to register voters before the November elections. This year, Forefront has partnered with Nonprofit VOTE, a national nonprofit, non-partisan group dedicated to promoting civic engagement, to dramatically increase voter registration in Illinois. The goal: to work in conjunction with eight Illinois nonprofits to reach disenfranchised communities whose voices are often underrepresented in our electoral process.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be highlighting the efforts of our Illinois Nonprofit VOTE partners to reach and register members of the communities they serve, and their plans for National Voter Registration Day.

This week we spoke with Sarah Greenberg from the EZRA Multi-Service Center in Chicago. The EZRA Multi-Service Center is funded through the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and is administered by the Jewish Community Center Chicago. EZRA works to prevent homelessness, mitigate the effects of poverty, and ensure that Jews who live in poverty remain actively connected to their heritage. They were selected to be one of Forefront’s eight state partners for Nonprofit VOTE and National Voter Registration Day.

  1. Why did your organization decide to get involved with Nonprofit VOTE?

We are passionate about civic engagement. We acknowledge as an anti-poverty organization. It is important for us to do both direct service work and also work to change the systemic barriers to self-sufficiency that our clients face. We believe everyone’s voice should be heard, and we encourage everyone who comes through our doors to engage in this work on multiple levels.

We serve a diverse client base; many of our clients are often going through transitions when they come through our doors in financial crisis. Often our clients are moving around a lot and are isolated and disconnected from the systems that impact their lives. These facts, combined with national statistics surrounding low voter turnout for low-income demographics, made us feel that our support for voter registration was important and needed.

  1. How does a program like Nonprofit VOTE fit within the mission of your organization?

Our mission states that we help people live with dignity, and that we offer help to anyone in need in an effort to repair the world. We believe that by encouraging our community to register to vote, we are helping to encourage our clients to lift up their voices and perspectives, and theirs are voices that are sometimes overlooked.

  1. Could you tell us about the population you serve and what civic engagement looks like for them?

It varies. A lot of our clients are really active in the community. Many long-time clients are election judges, and have been voting for decades. They are comfortable sharing their passion with others, both within the EZRA community and outside of the agency.

Some of our clients are less comfortable talking about politics and civic engagement, and opt not to have conversations with our staff, or attend voter registration events. I think civic engagement for them is expressing their voice in a way that feels comfortable for them-, whether that’s accomplished by voting, attending programs at EZRA around civic engagement, or even opting out entirely.

  1. Why is it important for the demographic you serve to register to vote?

Many of our clients utilize public benefit programs, and often these programs are vulnerable to changes and cuts at the federal and state level. The low-income population we serve is disenfranchised and they don’t often have the opportunity to advocate for their own needs on a large scale. Voting is a right. It is an important opportunity for every person to share what matters to them. Since this group of people is not usually given a platform, voting is especially critical. 

  1. Overall, how many new voters would you like to register/how many voter pledges would you like to get?

125 registrations. 125 pledge cards.

  1. On National Voter Registration Day, how many new voters/pledges would you like to get?

We hope to get 50 of each.

  1. What will you be doing on September 27/National Voter Registration Day to register voters?

We are hosting a Voterpalooza event on-site (909 W. Wilson Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60640). We’ll have opportunities for people to register to vote, check out their registration status, and find their polling place. We’re hosting a speaker from the League of Women Voters to talk about the history of voting rights in America. We hope that people in the community who are passionate about civic engagement will join us!

  1. What can readers do to get involved/support the effort?

Vote!  We encourage anyone who’s interested to attend our Voterpalooza. If you’re interested in volunteering at the event contact Sarah Sheek at sarahsheek@juf.org. Visit our Facebook page for more information.

National Voter Registration Day is Tuesday, September 27th. The Presidential Election is Tuesday, November 8th. Are YOU registered to vote? Find out your registration status and more by visiting Forefront's Nonprofit VOTE online headquarters.

Want to get involved? We have volunteer opportunities across the entire state of Illinois and a ton of National Voter Registration Day events you can attend on September 27th. Give us a call, shoot us an email, or drop by the Forefront office and we’ll connect you to a volunteer opportunity in your neighborhood and/or event in your neighborhood! If you have questions or to learn more, contact Alison Leipsiger, Director of Policy and Advocacy at aleipsiger@myforefront.org or 312-327-8912.

- Emma Olson, Development Associate, Forefront