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Cara prepares and inspires motivated individuals to break the cycles of homelessness and poverty, transform their lives, strengthen our communities, and forge paths to real and lasting success.

The term ‘cara’ is the Gaelic word for friend. Since our founding, we have always likened ourselves as a friend who coaches, who pushes, and who supports a community of motivated individuals on their journey towards success.

How did we begin? 

Cara was founded in 1991 by entrepreneur and philanthropist, Tom Owens. Inspired by the good work of Mother Teresa and moved by the global challenges affronting the poor, Tom returned home and dedicated himself to empowering adults affected by homelessness and poverty to find quality employment. In its early days, Cara's office was Tom’s car – the vehicle he used to travel from shelter to shelter working with individuals one-on-one to prepare them for interviews and connect them with jobs.

Now, 25 years later, Cara has evolved as not only a best-in-class job training and placement provider for individuals affected by homelessness and poverty, but also a vehicle for true life transformation. Since its inception, Cara has placed more than 5,100  individuals into quality, permanent employment (at one-year job retention rates of 70%+), catalyzing the same number of families to stop the transfer of poverty from one generation to the next. 

And how do we do it?

Cara provides a comprehensive solution to the interrelated challenges of poverty, employment barriers and chronic homelessness. We address poverty by giving individuals the opportunity to secure permanent employment through a comprehensive range of training, support, and job placement services. We mitigate many barriers to employment, and address the need for skilled workers in Illinois, by providing our students* with on-the-job training and industry-linked training courses. We also maintain relationships with more than 120 Chicagoland employers who trust the quality of our candidates for filling their entry-level positions. And, we stimulate community vibrancy by providing neighborhood beautification services that indelibly boost neighborhood pride and reclaim community identity.

Cara , however, is more than a successful and well-regarded workforce development program. And, its social enterprise, Cleanslate, is more than a fast and friendly service keeping our communities clean, and TCP Staffing giving the very best people for the very best reason. Together, these programs are a catalyst for true change and real, lasting success in our students lives. We not only raise the bar on what it means to reclaim neighborhoods block by block, but we also teach valuable job skills in the process. We provide our students with the skills and confidence they need to secure and sustain quality jobs, further their education, and find stable housing, while also empowering them to lead lives of personal and professional excellence.

* We use terms like 'students' and 'graduates' to underscore that our participants are not ‘clients’ to be served or ‘cases’ to be managed, but individuals who are in a learning environment and actively seeking to develop their skills.

The Impact

Avg 1 Yr Savings

v. U.S. average of $199

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Our Partner Programs

  • Clean Slate
  • TCP Staffing

Our Supporters and Employers

  • Morgan Stanley
  • Kellogg Company
  • Lurie Children's Hospital
  • Mariano's
  • Rebuilding Exchange
  • Whole Foods Market
  • Sodexo
  • Salvation Army
  • Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago
  • Levy Restaurants
  • Nordstrom Rack
  • Rivers Casino
  • Fitness Formula Clubs
  • Eataly Chicago
  • Housing Authority of Cook County
  • Catholic Charities
  • Harvard Maintenance Inc
  • Gotham Greens
  • Engineered Glass Products
  • The Habitat Company
  • Union League Club
  • Palmer House Hilton
  • Hilton Chicago O'Hare
  • Loretto Hospital
  • Resurrection Healthcare
  • Hyatt Regency Chicago
  • Hyatt Regency O'Hare
  • Hyatt Regency McCormick
  • Standard Parking
  • Northwestern Memorial Hospital
  • Pierce and Associates
  • Mercy Housing Lakefront
  • Center For Working Families
  • Chicago Bulls
  • Chicago Transit Authority
  • Cleanslate
  • ABM Janitorial Services
  • Allied Barton Security Services
  • ARAMARK
  • Bank of America
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