About Urban Initiatives

girlwithapple.jpgUrban Initiatives is a nonprofit organization that runs health, education, and character development programming for kids in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). By actively engaging participants in our extracurricular activities at a young age, Urban Initiatives empowers youth to live a healthy lifestyle, value education, and enhance their personal and social development. Urban Initiatives takes a collaborative, whole child approach to development in order to provide children with the opportunity to reach their full potential.


Urban Initiatives’ mission is to empower Chicago’s underserved children to adopt healthy lifestyles, improve their academic performance, and build strong character through sports-based youth development programs. We maximize our programmatic impact by collaborating with parents, schools, and community stakeholders.


Urban Initiatives' vision is to engage and empower youth to reach their full potential.  


In 2003, Urban Initiatives' founders, James Dower and Daniel Isherwood, began their careers as teachers for the CPS. While teaching at Byrd Academy in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood, they witnessed firsthand the hurdles that at-risk children must overcome in order to reach their full potential. As sports enthusiasts and professional soccer coaches, they recognized the power of sports programming to address youth issues. Thus, they organized a before and after school soccer program with donated equipment and nutritious snacks that were purchased out-of-pocket.

Students immediately embraced the opportunity to play in a safe and structured environment as well as to be a part of a team. They also worked hard in the classroom in order to meet their coaches’ academic expectations because their participation on the soccer field was contingent on their classroom performance and behavior. Work to Play began as a grassroots program comprised of two coaches, one school and twelve students. It has since expanded to serve over 800 students in 26 schools in 21 underserved communities throughout Chicago, reaching as far north as Hamlin Park and as far south as Marquette Park.

Urban Initiatives has built on the foundation of Work to Play by expanding our catalog to offer two complementary health, education, and character programs to maximize our impact on the communities we serve: Take the Lead and Play with Potential. This catalog enables us to impact students at the schools we serve from kindergarten through 8th grade with high impact, sports-based youth development programs. Take the Lead is a sports-based leadership development program for outstanding Work to Play alumni in 5th through 8th grades. Participants become Team Captains on their schools’ Work to Play teams as well as engage in a series of large and small group experiential learning opportunities in order to develop their leadership skills. Play with Potential is a structured recess program that aims to maximize the development and learning potential of recess for kindergarten through 8th grade students by engaging students in high levels of safe and cooperative physical activity.

Today, Urban Initiatives is serving over 11,500 students in 29 elementary Chicago Public Schools in 23 distinct communities with these three core programs.