Tamora Hughes - Assistant Director of Grants and Contracts

Jan. 8, 2013 by Nicole V. Rohr

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Tamora Hughes has experienced multiple challenges for the past, well, decade. The WYCC Assistant Director of Grants and Contracts, however, has used this time not only as an opportunity for personal growth, but also in a way that gives back to her community.

Hughes, a Columbia College graduate, specialized in presentation graphics and worked for Bank of America for six years, and for Morningstar for four years. In 2002, she lost her job with Morningstar and separated from her then husband – all right around her birthday that year. “All of that happened, and it was like a collapse,” Hughes said. “It was a test.”

This test led Hughes to do odds and ends for her church while she was figuring out her next steps. She began teaching technology skills to seniors, and to others who had lost their jobs. Her goal was to teach them how to update their resumes and apply to jobs online. Having had little exposure to grant writing, and not having much faith in her own writing skills, Hughes still decided to apply for the Illinois Department of Commerce’s Digital Divide Grant. “I just answered them [the questions], including what I wanted and the passion I had. I just filled it out, submitted the application, and we got $48,000.”

“When I was in college, they [my professors] said, ‘You’re a horrible writer. You have no concept of writing.’ So, I lived up to that,” Hughes said, able to laugh about it now. “I Iived up to not having a flow.” But despite perceived internal and external doubts, Hughes successfully funded a technology skills class at her church.

About a month later, Hughes discovered a grant opportunity through the Hewlett-Packard Company (HP). “I wrote the proposal,” she said, “and I’m thinking, ‘Hey, I don’t know how to write.’” HP sent Hughes a list, approximately 50 pages long, and told her to estimate what products would be valuable for her community goals. She ended up receiving more than $100,000 worth of equipment, and founded an entrepreneurship program to teach young people how to start their own businesses. Hughes also held after-school and summer learning labs so that students could use the computers she had won to finish homework.

Pretty soon, Hughes was getting calls from almost everyone she knew, and they were all asking her to help them with grants. She eventually started her own website called the Grants Funding Network, and she started picking up big clients and small clients, including nonprofits like the church where she got her start.

In 2007, Hughes was referred by a friend to a position with Career Programs at City Colleges of Chicago’s Kennedy-King College. She worked there for four years, and explained one of her greatest successes: “The first really, really big grant I got was $1.17 million, and that was when we had the nursing program here. It was for two years through the Department of Education. I wrote the program for a nursing lab.”

Hughes has now been with WYCC PBS Chicago since May 2012, and she is motivated by the smaller grants for which the station has applied. “It’s great because you have to start small and get your opportunity to manage it,” she said. Volunteer Program Assistant Falyn Harper has also been able to use smaller grants ($500 to $1000 range) to benefit the WYCC Kids Club, and Hughes has played a major role in those efforts. “I’m glad she is getting smaller grants, and that she’s excited. It adds a little flavor to what she’s doing, and she has some dollars to go with it. As long as she’s happy doing it, I’ll keep applying because [the writing] is really quick for me. I can do them in like 30 minutes,” Hughes explained.

But not all of the grants the station is waiting on are small. WYCC PBS Chicago will hopefully, thanks to Hughes’ hard work, be the recipient of a $500,000 Ready To Learn grant sometime in the near future.

So, the talented writer who once was told she did not know anything about writing will potentially bring in major funding dollars for a PBS station in Chicago, and has published two books called My Kingdom Comeand Reflections of the Heart. Hughes’ spirituality is a major guide in her life, especially since she has been dealing with a recent medical diagnosis: lupus.

Hughes described the disease as an immune disease that fights off the good and the bad, so it is killing anything in her body that is trying to do good, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, lupus is a “chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.” (mayoclinic.com) Hughes was hospitalized for two weeks earlier this year due to problems with her kidney – a bill totaling $66,000. She expressed gratitude for having solid medical insurance at the time. Her mother has even taken a job to help with any additional medical costs.

Despite the tough situations that Hughes has faced, she remains a person at the station that anyone can turn to. “I’ve always seen myself as a person that isn’t shut off, and if you ever want to come in and talk, that you know you can kind of throw off some steam,” she said. “Being here, we have a good group of people. I really, really appreciate that.”

Hughes was recently accepted to Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary & Graduate School to earn her master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling. Her goals after retirement include investing in nonprofits so that she can give the same boost to others that those initial grants gave to her. “The people that I’m working with… I know their passion and their struggle, and I just want to be in a position that I can financially be able to be the lender. The grantor.”

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