An anonymous donor has committed $1 million to the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF), citing difficult times in Evanston and urging those who can to rise to the challenges presented by the current economic downturn.

This gift to ECF’s Communityworks Endowment Fund will be matched by Chicago-based Grand Victoria Foundation. “This gift gives a tremendous boost to the sustainability of our kindergarten-readiness initiative and to our foundation as a community resource,” said executive director Sara Schastok, adding, “It was made now in these difficult times as an expression of hope in our future.” The gift is the largest ever received by ECF from an individual, she said.

Since 2003, Chicago-based Grand Victoria Foundation has been engaged in a partnership with ECF and 16 other such foundations in Illinois. Each foundation was charged with developing change initiatives that address local challenges in the areas of early childhood education, workforce training and development, and land use and protection. Grantmaking toward the goals of Evanston’s initial plan, titled “Every child ready for kindergarten, Every youth ready for work,” was launched early in 2007. Continuing home visits to 40 at-risk families with children from birth to 3 years of age is the starting point for the local effort. Citing research findings, ECF links success in early learning with economic benefits later in life.

In announcing continuation of the Communityworks partnership through August 2011, Grand Victoria awarded ECF $2 million in February of this year.

Grand Victoria also committed up to a total of $2 million more to match gifts to the Communityworks Endowment Fund or to the Foundation Fund, the endowment that supports all the Foundation’s work, Ms. Schastok said.

“Grand Victoria’s commitment to our organizational endowment recognizes that it takes good people to do and to sustain good work,” said Ms. Schastok.

“Gifts of $4 million in one year to our foundation are truly significant for Evanston. This should encourage all of us to do what we can.”