Sustainable Options for Urban Living

Do You Have S.O.U.L.?

Sustainable Options for Urban Living Inc (S.O.U.L.) is a 501C3, whose work is creating a  transformative model of community economic development. We are community developers  with a special focus on people development. Our work covers construction, energy-efficiency,  environmental justice, clean energy, restorative justice, social-emotional development.

Sustainable Options for Urban Living, Inc. was incorporated as an Illinois Not for Profit  Corporation, July 2015. We also applied and received 501c3 designation from the United States  Federal Government that same year.

In November of 2015, S.O.U.L., Inc. began by hosting a Social Economic Panel Discussion with  guest speaker, Attorney Marc J. Lane, author of “Mission-Driven Venture: Business Solutions to  the World’s Most Vexing Problems”. Our panelists included the Executive Director of Habitat for  Humanity Chicago, a representative from Thrivent Financial, the nation’s only Fortune 500 Not  for Profit financial organization, and the Executive Director of South Suburban Community  Development Corporation. Each panelist shared strategies for crafting plans that partner  government, public and private organizations at the grassroots level solve complex problems  facing our communities. We believe in people, place, and profit.

During those first five years, we began a partnership with Phalanx Family Services to reach and  train opportunity youth, 18-24 years old. Today we have expanded and continue this important  relationship. We are recruiting for our Fall Cohort.

We also began our Strategic Partnership with Sunshine Enterprises. We co-developed a  specialty training program, The Construction Community Business Academy, a 12-week  introduction to entrepreneurship focused on the construction energy. We are recruiting for our Fall Cohort.

Another Strategic Partnership developed with Elevate Energy. We counseled them on several  important, Future Energy Jobs Act, (FEJA) implementations including, Solar PV Installer training  for more than 100 residents classified as returning citizens, or residents of environmental  justice communities. The establishment of an incubator and accelerator for Energy-Efficiency  and Solar PV minority contractors. We are recruiting for our Lightbulb 3.0 Cohort to provide  back-office, sales/customer service training and support to our Clean Energy contractors.

Our new SOUL Genius Construction Training Center and Business Incubator, located in  Chicago’s Southland, currently host two USDOL Registered Apprenticeships, and a Business  Operations Support Program supporting our Diverse Contractor Incubator.

In 2022, a new partnership has developed. S.O.U.L. is a team member of Ascend HI. We are  providing training and technical assistance to small, diverse contractors as a part of the Chicago  Transit Authority’s Small Business Services, a CTA Diversity Program, that seeks to improve  procurement successes for small, Diverse construction businesses.

S.O.U.L. is transitioning our underserved and under-performing low-income communities of  color toward becoming collaborative, locally powered. We are intentionally developing BIPOC  community economies that provide living wage jobs, energy-efficient affordable housing,  thriving business, quality lifelong education, retail, arts, and holistic health care. It is our goal to  lead our community in the acquisition, rehabilitation, and/or new construction of  projects that serve our most vulnerable populations and their families.

We see the workers and businesses that form the SOUL Community as leading the way using  the training and income opportunities in the clean energy economy. Since 2018, S.O.U.L. has  been a leading partner in the clean energy growth training space. We guide and maximize public investments in high quality workforce partnerships so that we can collectively meet the  demand and growth of the clean energy and construction workforce. We are here to  coordinate, train, assist, and support BIPOC contractors and community workers to build and  renovate scattered site affordable housing, that is energy-efficient, and accessible to public  transportation.

The SOUL GENIUS CONSTRUCTION Training Center & Diverse Contractor Incubator is located at  14076 Lincoln Ave. in Dolton, IL. Our programs are employer-driven, employee-centric and  result in high-road workforce development partnerships that benefit the following individuals  and communities: • Disadvantaged or LMI communities • Communities of Color • Tribal  communities • Young people with disadvantaged backgrounds • Previously Incarcerated  Individuals (PII) or Returning Citizens • Transitioning fossil fuel communities • Rural  communities • People with Disabilities • Women

Sustainable Options for Urban Living, Inc. (S.O.U.L.) is intentional in our efforts to support returning citizens to become self-sufficient, homeowners, tax paying members of our  communities while reducing crime, drug abuse and addiction, and the amount spent on  incarceration.

The Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (“SPAC”) estimates that of the people released  from Illinois prisons each year, 17% recidivate within one year and 43% recidivate within three  years. And those numbers continue to increase with time. Among all re-entry programs,  employment training/job assistance returns $20.26 on every dollar invested. The recidivism  rates decrease significantly when returning citizens have access to employment and safe,  stable, and affordable housing. (1)

SOUL is intentional in our efforts to support returning citizens to become self-sufficient, homeowners, tax paying members of our  communities while reducing crime, drug abuse and addiction, and the amount spent on  incarceration.

Authors, Visher, C. A., Smolter, N., & O’Connell, D. completed research for the U.S. Probation  Office, District of Delaware’s office in 2010. They examined the impact of a pilot workforce  development program on employment, earnings, and recidivism outcomes for adult offender  probationers.  

The authors used a nonexperimental design to create a matched comparison group of  nonparticipants who were similar to program participants. The authors’ estimated the  program’s effects by comparing these groups’ employment, earnings, and recidivism outcomes  one year after the program. Data were collected from probationer case files; the Probation and  Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS) database;, and, for the treatment  group, program records. 

The authors found that individuals who participated in vocational training were employed for  more months in the first year after program enrollment than were participants who received no  vocational training. The authors found that individuals in the program group were less likely to  be rearrested or have their probation revoked than were members of the matched comparison  group. 

For our returning citizens the S.O.U.L. Program will accomplish job training, living wage  incomes, stable, energy-efficient, and affordable homes. We are in discussions with Habitat for  Humanity and NHS Chicago about developing the financial training and support program to  assist these new home buyers as they progress through to stability. We are also in talks with  organizational members of the Veterans Housing Collaborative and various short-term housing  assistance providers.  

In the past few years our work with the Monroe Foundations’ Get Cleared Campaign, and working with CNI and Sunshine Enterprises on PERC, helped us to understand that economic  opportunities and resources such as a job and a home can break the cycle. 82% of the returning citizens who find steady employment do not recidivate. Many businesses still will not consider  hiring returning citizens; however, our industry is more open than most. In fact, in our program, we find some of our most successful and hard-working entrepreneurs were themselves once in  similar circumstances. 

We seek public and private support as we tackle the job shortages in these key areas and  address the tremendous need to successfully shepherd all our most vulnerable, especially our  returning citizens to experience the stability of a job with a home, and community they can be  proud of.

(1) State of Illinois, Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council. (2016). Illinois Results First: A Cost Benefit Tool for  Criminal Justice Policymakers. Retrieved from the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority website:

About the Author, Tom Decker

With ten years of experience selling spray foam insulation in Chicago, Tom Decker is THE person to call and the Chicago Green Insulation is the organization to hire when you are looking for top notch quality and performance as well as someone who can deal with the needs of code officials, home owners and general contractors. Call the others in Chicago, if you are interested in the cheapest price, call Chicago Green Insulation if you are interested in using your dollars to make Chicago a better city for all of us!

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