We engage our youth in meaningful community service projects, from community greening initiatives to food distribution. These service projects simultaneously build the skills of our youth and better the Evanston community. Through service, our youth expand their leadership and decision-making skills, increase their civic knowledge, and improve their interpersonal and communications skills.
Our service learning program fills an urgent gap. While participation in service learning has been shown to improve youth engagement, reduce violent activity, increase academic achievement, and strengthen the likelihood of future career success, low-income youth are 18% less likely to participate in these activities than their peers. This "civic engagement gap" significantly affects Evanston. In 2009, we conducted an informal community needs assessment which included community interviews, a focus group, and a survey of 100 youth, parents, and community stakeholders. Our assessment indicated a pressing need for meaningful service learning opportunities for the youth we serve.
Our service learning efforts have been widely recognized in the community. Speaking before the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Grand Prix organizer Chris Mailing singled out Y.O.U.'s “championship job” in service learning. In January 2011, our youth participants in the service learning group at Nichols School also received the McGaw YMCA's Talley-Reece Award.