Profile: Polk Bros. work allows program officer Frank Baiocchi to make a difference, stay connected to arts October 1, 2015

As a senior program officer at Polk Bros. Foundation, Chicago area resident Frank Baiocchi works on strategic grant-making initiatives, including over $1.5 million in grants to subsidize IFF’s real estate services to local nonprofits since 1992. Frank recently chatted with us about his work in philanthropy, his background in theater, and how he stays connected to the arts.

When did you start working at Polk Bros. Foundation?
About 10 years ago, I started as an intern when I was in the master’s program for social service administration at University of Chicago. I was fortunate Polk Bros. Foundation hired me after my internship ended. Since then, I’ve advanced from program associate to program officer to senior program officer, which I’ve held for the last five years. For most of my time here, I’ve overseen the same portfolios — arts and culture, youth and family services, and capacity-building programs.

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of the ongoing partnerships with our grantees, government agencies, and other funders in addressing the system-level challenges that can impede nonprofits from doing their best work. It really takes us all working together to identify the core root of the problems and come up with creative solutions. So the actual accomplishment is the process itself. And to make meaningful change, it’s always an ongoing process.

How have Polk Bros. and IFF worked together?
Early on in my career here, I heard about IFF’s impact on nonprofits across all the sectors we help with grants. Polk Bros. has supported IFF’s real estate consulting department for a number of years. IFF provides a level of expertise that is really significant for our grantees, and really understands nonprofits and their inherent challenges and strengths.

This year, we have provided IFF with a grant that subsidizes up to 65 percent of its fees for any Polk Bros. grantees that are planning for new or renovated space. Recent projects include a feasibility study for Lawndale Christian Health Center, an assessment of 12 properties for UCAN, and predevelopment for a new preschool in Englewood operated by the Chicago Child Care Society. These three grants in one year tell the story about the variety of organizations we support through our relationship with IFF.

Before coming to Polk Bros., what were you doing?
I began my career as a Broadway performer in New York. During the day, I ran an arts education program and taught theater and voice classes. In the evenings, I performed in shows on or off Broadway. I played the role of Chris in the Broadway Company and national tour of Miss Saigon, and some of my other favorite roles included Tony in The West Side Story, Danny in Grease, Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar and Will Parker in Oklahoma.

The theater industry had really been hit hard by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and I also engaged in community organizing, building awareness around the disease and raising funds for people who were suffering from it. After 10 years in theater, I decided to return to Chicago and make a career shift. I wanted to be part of effecting social change by working in the nonprofit and philanthropy worlds.

Are you still involved with theater?
Through arts grants made by Polk Bros., I stay really engaged with the arts community in Chicago. On a more personal level, I remain very connected through my partner, Robert Hunt, a professional actor and director in Chicago. A particular interest of mine is rediscovering the arts through the eyes of our two daughters, whom we adopted this past April out of foster care. To experience their joy in the arts — particularly Chicago arts — has been really inspiring to me.

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