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About | FIRSTHAND: Living in Poverty


In Chicago, your birthplace often determines your destiny. Children born in one West Side census tract between 1978 and 1983 grew up to have a median annual household income of $16,000, according to Opportunity Insights. Does the American Dream exist in Chicago? In FIRSTHAND: LIVING IN POVERTY, WTTW explores intergenerational poverty in Chicago in a documentary series, reported stories, expert talks, and community discussions. 

FIRSTHAND: Living in Poverty is part of the award-winning FIRSTHAND multiplatform, multi-year initiative focusing on the firsthand perspectives of people facing critical issues in Chicago.

Community Engagement Partners

A Better Chicago improves opportunities for low-income Black and Latino youth by leveraging the collective power of Chicagoans who want to make our city more equitable – investing grant dollars and strategic capacity-building support to help grantees grow in scale and impact.

Cara helps people affected by poverty (and often the challenges of recovery, domestic violence, episodic homelessness, and incarceration) get and keep quality jobs. Learn how to apply for a Cara Bootcamp Training, or get involved as a trainer or affiliate employer.

Community Renewal Society informs and brings people of faith and congregations together, in partnership with communities, to intentionally and decisively transform society toward greater social justice at the intersection of racism and poverty. Find ways to involved.

Family Independence Initiative accelerates the exchange of financial and social capital in low-income communities across the nation. Sign up for their networking and cash support program UpTogether.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository acts as the hub for a network of more than 700 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other programs. Learn how you can help in your community.

Instituto del Progreso Latino contributes to the fullest development of Latino immigrants and their families through education, training, and employment.

Lake County Community Foundation works to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable residents of the county by providing civic leadership and promoting collective philanthropy. Learn more and support their COVID relief efforts.

Loyola University School Center of Research on Self-Sufficiency promotes long-range solutions to the issue of self-sufficiency through community engagement using education, practice, and research on psychological self-sufficiency (PSS) as a vehicle.

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law fights for economic and racial justice by litigating, shaping policy, and training and connecting people in the advocacy community.

The University of Chicago Inclusive Economy Lab partners with policymakers, community-based organizations and others to generate rigorous evidence that expands economic opportunity for communities harmed by discrimination, disinvestment and segregation.

The United Way of Metropolitan Chicago strives to create a vibrant Chicago region where all our neighbors have access to the resources they need to thrive. Learn more about their services, including COVID-19 relief.

Additional Community Engagement Partners

Chicago Community Loan Fund provides financing and technical assistance for community stabilization and development efforts and initiatives that benefit low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, families and individuals throughout metropolitan Chicago.

Growing Home operates, promotes, and demonstrates the use of organic urban agriculture as a vehicle for job training, employment, food access and community development in our Englewood community.

LIFT Chicago helps parents and caregivers build personal well-being, social connections and financial strength with coaching and financial support.

Metropolitan Family Services provide and mobilize the services needed to strengthen families and communities – providing services supporting education, economic stability, emotional wellness, and empowerment across the Chicago area.

My Block, My Hood, My City provides underprivileged youth with an awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhood, taking students on explorations focused on STEM, Arts & Culture, Citizenry & Volunteerism, Health, Community Development, Culinary Arts, and Entrepreneurism.

Major support for FIRSTHAND was provided by

The Grainger Foundation
Becky and Lester Knight, The Knight Family Foundation
Jim and Kay Mabie
Rande and Cary McMillan
Butler Family Foundation
Denny and Sandy Cummings
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
Lew Collens
Edwardson Family Foundation
Marc and Jeanne Malnati Family Foundation
Kristin Carlson Vogen and Shawn Vogen
The Duncan Family

Additional major support for Community Engagement is provided by Caerus Foundation, Inc with additional support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.

As of May 31, 2021.



Justin Henderson
Jenny Macchione

Justin Henderson
Nate Beversluis
Kevin Crowley
Mike Scipioni

Still Photography
Liam Alexander

SVP, Marketing & Digital Media
Anne Gleason

Community Engagement

Vice President of Community Engagement
Tim Russell

Community Engagement Specialist
Laura Wilson Fallsgraff

Discussion Guide

Philip Young P. Hong, PhD


Produced and Directed by
Pat Odom

Director of Photography
Alejandro Marin

Jude Leak

Associate Producer
Jessica Martinaitis

Original Score
Allie n Steve Mullen

Re-Recording Mixer
Shawn Duffy

Additional Camera
Sam Rong
Michael Swanson

Art Director
Linda Fox

Executive Producers
Dan Protess
Anne Gleason


Judith McCray

Director of Photography
John Dewey

AC Production LLC

Art Director
Linda Fox

Still Photography
Ken Carl

Executive Producer
Anne Gleason
Dan Protess

Special Thanks
Peoples Energy Welcome Pavilion at Navy Pier