Breaking Poverty Cycles Once and For All

Cara is a non-profit social enterprise committed to its local community by building pathways out of poverty for Chicago families. Born out of a desire to rebuild hope and opportunity for  in the lives of others, Cara has spent the last 27 years helping individuals train for, get and keep quality jobs. For them, the end goal is clear: to transform lives.


Cara staff members dedicate themselves to each of their participants, promising that perseverance and hard work will ensure them a job. Through the program, participants receive consistent support, learn job-search techniques, are trained in hard skills and are even provided with an interview suit and public transit card for transportation.


We help motivated people get back on their feet so they can start building a better life for themselves and their families, and a better city for us all.


The organization was founded in 1991 by Tom Owens, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who spent many years traveling globally to aid projects alleviating poverty. He started Cara when, after returning from a trip abroad, he realized just how many domestic families were living in need and made the commitment to reduce poverty in his own Chicago community. He started simply, visiting homeless shelters in the city and working one on one to coach and prepare individuals to apply for open positions he knew of through business connections. Since then, Cara has created 2,523 transitional jobs and placed over 500 people.


Cara owns and operates two social enterprises, which help participant graduates have access to immediate employment opportunities as they transition back into the workforce. Cleanslate is a maintenance enterprise offering a variety of services for Chicago businesses and communities; like graffiti, litter and snow removal, power-washing and landscaping. The organization also operates a contract staffing firm, Cara Connects, which sources quality candidates to fill entry-level positions at businesses across the city. Each candidate is hand-picked based on their qualifications with the open position, screened and coached to ensure retention and long-term success.


The work is important, not only because of its clear goal of bringing individuals in need back to the dignity and productivity of employment, but because of its clear mission to transform people’s lives.


At Cara, they know that poverty is a cyclical issue, — one that 39.7 million americans are experiencing — as lack of access to gainful employment and an unstable home life often leave families unable to rise out of their circumstances for generations. That’s why the organization focuses on employment that sustains. Participants don’t technically graduate the program until their first job anniversary and retention rates for Cara participants outpace national statistics by 20 points. This retention is important, as it adds the stability and long term success necessary for families to thrive and break the cycle of poverty. This, they say, is “the real transformational work.”


“Cara” is the Gaelic word for friend, and the organization prides itself on being just that for individuals in need: a committed community of people willing to lend a hand. Cara participants thrive because they have the support they need and the grit and determination to build a new life. It shows in the annual reports. Over 70% of Cara participants had retained permanent housing for their families by the end of their first year in the program; and for every dollar invested in the Cara social enterprises, $5.97 was re-invested over a five-year span. While they’re proud of these statistics, the organization still desires to do more and dreams of one day using their system to help thousands across the nation.


To learn more about Cara – Cleanslate – Cara Connects, check out their member directory profile.

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