Christopher House Advances Early Childhood Education Initiative with Opus Foundation Grant

​With a recent $300,000 multi-year grant, Christopher House, a Chicago nonprofit that's closing the opportunity gap for children, is building a strong pipeline of qualified early childhood teachers.

Christopher House (CH) is a family of schools that serve children from six weeks of age through the eighth grade. Recognizing that parents are a child's first teacher, the nonprofit uses a two-generation, continuum of education model that includes family immersive support for the caregivers of students enrolled at CH, who CH affectionately calls “scholars."

The nonprofit's mission aligns closely with one of the Opus Foundation's key focus areas: early childhood education. In 2022, 80% of children enrolled at CH showed social-emotional learning development required to transition to kindergarten and 100% of eighth graders went on to high school. CH also provides parent educational workshops and access to counseling, as well as food pantries and emergency financial assistance. The nonprofit distributed emergency rental assistance to more than 500 families and 1,635 (unduplicated) individuals received food from CH's food pantry in 2022.

Framework for the future

This recent grant will enable CH to embark on a new initiative to establish and mentor a strong pipeline of qualified early childhood teachers. Their approach is unique, as they will be growing and developing their own teaching staff. They are creating a framework to formalize the nonprofit's internal mentorship program and onboard new early childhood staff, supporting them as they navigate their own credentialing.

“We know having a strong early childhood workforce will ensure that our scholars, many of whom have been impacted deeply by the pandemic, will achieve critical developmental milestones, such as being prepared for kindergarten after preschool," said Libby Shortenhaus, CEO of Christopher House.

The initiative will also allow CH to deliver on its strategic equity and inclusion goals. Research has shown positive outcomes when BIPOC children have at least one teacher of the same race and from a similar background (Urban Institute, 2017). 

Currently 89% of the nonprofit's early childhood workforce identifies as BIPOC, strongly reflecting the communities they serve in north and northwest Chicago. Many live in those communities and have had similar experiences to the children and families served, including being immigrants, migrants, and/or from single-parent households.

Libby says given the current state of the Early Childhood Education sector, this work is imperative. According to a Center for American Progress report in 2022, “Child care workers remain nearly at the bottom of all U.S. occupations when ranked in annual pay, and they struggle to make ends meet." The pandemic exasperated the issue.

“Opus' partnership and grant to Christopher House is game changing," said Libby. “This investment will create access to jobs that lead to living wage employment while also answering the needs of families in our communities by nurturing teaching talent. It will further our work as innovators in the education and social service sector, impacting local and national early childhood teacher pipelines with a model for developing high-quality, early career teaching staff."

Kristin Ridley, Executive Director of the Opus Foundation, said, “Christopher House is NAEYC-accredited, a distinction awarded to only 10% of early learning centers across the country. They are proven experts in early childhood education. We are honored to support their work and excited to see what the future holds." 

Funding and more

Previously, the Opus Foundation has provided CH with $255,000 in grants for curriculum, STEAM initiatives and building equitable learning environments. With the addition of this grant, Opus Foundation support for CH is approaching $600,000.

Meanwhile, our associates in Chicago have found additional ways to support CH. Since 2018, they have helped with everything from the annual holiday giving program, to organizing food and personal care drives, to gathering and delivering books for reading events. 

“Christopher House is helping to break the cycle of poverty for these children and their families," said Eva Johns, Executive Assistant & Office Manager. “We truly enjoy gathering items for the food and personal item drives and making the holidays a little brighter for the kids and their families each year."  

In 2022, Christopher House recognized our Chicago office as Corporate Partner Honoree for our “incredible commitment to Christopher House, early childhood education and our family of schools."

“Opus is an incredible partner to Christopher House because of the people," said Libby. “They have supported our work and community for so many years. Opus is a true partner, and we could not be more grateful."


The Opus Foundation®​ is the corporate foundation for The Opus Group and is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families. The Foundation is committed to improving conditions that disproportionately affect historically underinvested individuals and communities by resourcing key focus areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work. The Opus Foundation is a separate entity from The Opus Group and is led by its own Board of Directors.