This week I had the privilege to talk about careers with Jim Dower from Urban Initiatives, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that works with over 17,000 young people and more than 55 local schools in the Chicago area. Urban Initiatives is working to empower students from under-resourced communities in Chicago to become leaders through their structured recess and after-school programs.

jim dower urban initiatives

Jim talks to a group of students at Pasteur Elementary school before a soccer game.

KC: Hi Jim! Thanks for talking with me today. What is your “official position” at Urban Initiatives?
JD: I am the co-founder and president of Urban Initiatives, a Chicago non-profit that started in 2003.

KC: And, what was the career path that landed you in this position?
JD: I always thought I would go into law. But, I’m actually the first Jim Dower (in a long line of Jim Dowers) not to attend University of Iowa Law School. Being inspired by, and a product of, the Chicago Public School System, I decided to shift away from law and started my professional career as a substitute teacher in Cabrini Green.

It was here that I realized my calling was to provide as many opportunities as I could for the CPS students to develop leadership and healthy living skills by using my passion for sports. Honestly, when I started, I had no concept of what a non-profit was but with time the structure began to develop. Over the past 16 years we have gained tremendous support from various areas that have built Urban Initiatives into what it is today.

KC: That’s a fascinating story! What has been the biggest learning to date from your career path?
JD: The knowledge and support that I have received from mentors has been invaluable. Having no formal business education or non-profit experience, the guidance from these resources continues to propel the program forward. And, the best part is that these mentors come from various places, whether they are staff members, students, or even thinking back to my 7th and 8th grade CPS teachers that showed me how to have a presence… I have a long laundry list of mentors that I’m thankful for every day.

KC: Given your impact on so many lives, I’m sure there are many answers to this next question… What do you value most about your current role?
JD: It’s hard to narrow it down to a single thing. I think the one thing I value the most is the uniqueness of our organization to have relationships that build an authentic connection with students, teachers, board members and stakeholders. We’re all dedicated to the greater good for the community. People are involved for the right reasons and this passion continues to drive our organization.

KC: And, lastly for fun, what is your favorite interview question to ask candidates?
JD: I actually don’t do many interviews any more but when I did I always like asking about the last live show they attended. Whether it’s a music show or an art performance, it’s all about the notion of connection and celebration in a communal way which is what Urban Initiatives is all about!


Thanks so much for your time and sharing your story, Jim! We love your mission and wish you and Urban Initiatives continued success! To learn more about Urban Initiatives and how you can get involved, please visit the Urban Initiatives website.


Kate Chelovich is the Director of Marketing for VIZI. She truly believes that A Career Choice is A Life Choice and one of the most important decisions you make. If you aren’t happy, don’t be afraid of change.