Special Initiatives

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 and Skokie communities. 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 our community.  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. 

  • Reducing bullying: We utilize the nationally recognized Get Connected program at each of our eight school-based program sites to prevent bullying and peer abuse. Our program includes initial presentations to youth, which are followed by a series of activities and discussions that address the issue of bullying in a positive and proactive manner by promoting kindness and positive peer relationships. Youth are shown the impact of bullying, learn strategies to deter and prevent bullying situations, and gain tools to develop pro-social behavioral skills.
  • Promoting healthy lifestyles: We draw on the Life Skills Training model, a well-researched, best practice curriculum that promotes health and personal development for youth.  The training covers substance abuse prevention, self esteem building, peer pressure, building healthy relationships, and decision making skills.
  • Preventing violence: We use Second Step, a rigorously tested violence prevention curriculum for middle and high school youth.  Second Step aims to reduce violence among adolescents through empathy building, anger management technique training, and problem solving skills development.