Y.O.U. in the Media

Welcome to the Y.O.U. in the Media page. Below are recent news articles featuring Y.O.U.

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Evanston's Y.O.U. sets King Day theme
By: Pioneer Press Staff
Published: January 8, 2014

Youth Organizations Umbrella and a coalition of Evanston non-profits have announced plans for the eighth annual Diverse Evanston Walks United.

DEWU is a community-wide celebration that engages youth and families from across Evanston and Skokie in performances and speeches that promote non-violence.

This year’s theme, “What It Takes,” is aimed at remembering the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. It is also about remaining aware of the work that remains to be done in accomplishing King’s dreams.

The event will feature original songs, choreography, dramatic performances and visual art pieces created by youth from all eight of Y.O.U.’s after-school sites in Evanston and Skokie.

The event also will feature speeches by Y.O.U. alumni, youth development specialists, and a volunteer mentor. Alderman Delores Holmes and Y.O.U. founder Don Baker will be honored with the “What It Takes” Award for their dedication to serving Evanston and surrounding communities.

The event will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 20 at the Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., in Evanston. A free lunch and reception will take place following the event from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at Lee Street Church, 607 Lake St.

The event is co-sponsored by Y.O.U., the McGaw YMCA, the Music Institute of Chicago, the Rotary Club of Evanston and Whole Foods. The event is free and open to the public.

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Y.O.U. shows off summer program results
By: Jennifer Ball
Published: August 9, 2013

Participants in the Youth Organizations Umbrella summer program showed off their work to the public at Dewey Elementary School in Evanston Thursday night.

While members of the Y.O.U. Fit program displayed the acrobatics moves they've been working on all summer, members of the Youth Entrepreneurship Summer program, including 15-year-old Carla Orduno, were presenting their projects.

Orduno said the concept she developed -- a non-profit called The Impact Project -- would “help teens find places where their talents can be shown and they can have fun while gaining community service hours.”

“The students got feedback from over 50 community business leaders,” Ellen Muench, volunteer and outreach coordinator at Y.O.U. and leader of the entrepreneurship program, said. “They were really passionate about their ideas.”

“The reason I’m passionate about this programming is it’s a way to expose our adolescents to different business paths, just so they know that these career paths are out there,” Muench said.

For Orduno and the other would-be entrepreneurs, their planning led to a final pitch in front of mock investors at Madison Dearborn Partners, where they honed their communication skills.

About 350 students from third to 12th grade participated in free Y.O.U. programs this summer.

Annette Elliot, who taught the architecture program, said that the architecture proposals the students came up with are “very impressive for them being contemporary and innovative.”

Twelve students took part in the architecture program where they were encouraged to be “as imaginative as possible,” Elliot said.

“While the summer could be a time where they otherwise slide back, for our kids, this is actually a springboard forward,” Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green said.

Students in a high-quality summer program end the summer five months ahead academically of students who take the summer off, Green said.

“It is essential if we are going to address the achievement gap in our community that all of our kids have access to high quality summer supports and learning, so we’re here to celebrate that,” Green added.

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School Program D-69 Wins $120,000 Grant For Afterschool Programs, Resources For Families
By: Pam DeFiglio
Published: July 19, 2013 

Lincoln Junior High School could be buzzing with after-school activities, homework help, mentoring programs and involved parents next year.

School District 69 has won a $120,000 grant from United Way North-Northwest, a grant-making organization, to expand existing after-school programs which help middle school kids get ready for the academic demands of high school, to get them on track to graduate from high school.

The activities will also likely include a mentoring program for middle-schoolers, athletics and other constructive programs and social-emotional support, such as a boys' group which has a leader discussing topics such as how to grow into a responsible man.

"Some families need additional support, and counselors can do counseling with families and parents," said Melissa Carpenter of Y.O.U., an Evanston-based non-profit which will organize and run the programs in cooperation with District 69. 

"It's based on the Community School model," she said. That model makes the school a hub of activities for people in the community. The activities could include recreational programs like soccer or dance classes, language classes for immigrant parents, health screenings, financial literacy classes for parents, and other activities that strengthen community bonds.

The Community School model has been shown across the country to reduce truancy, reduce gang activity and help prepare children to graduate, she said.

Y.O.U. conducted after-school programs at Lincoln Junior High this past year, and the grant will allow them to expand, she said.

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Y.O.U. Pilots 'Community School' Model at Chute, Builds on After-School Program
By: Larry Gavin
Published: July 17, 2013   

There is a nationwide movement to establish what are often referred to as "community schools." The lack of progress in addressing the achievement gap has led many scholars, educators and parents to advocate for a more holistic approach to address the needs of students from low-income households. 

They posit that providing a network of services in a school, such as after-school learning programs, enrichment activities, sports activities, health services and adult education programs, will open the doors to the school, increase the opportunities for parent engagement, provide a more supportive environment for learning, and create the conditions for high student achievement.  

Perhaps one of the most expansive efforts is the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides wrap-around services starting at birth. The community’s mantra is that every child will be college ready by the time he or she finishes high school. Closer to home, 40 schools work with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA) on Chicago’s northwest side to build community learning centers. They have a nationally recognized model that engages and empowers parents to partner in their child’s education. 

Here in Evanston, the Youth Organizations Umbrella (YOU) is in the beginning stages of piloting a "community school" at Chute Middle School.

"Community schools develop in so many ways and they’re really about what’s happening in the local community," said Melissa Carpenter, YOU’s community school manager who previously worked with LSNA. "At the core, what they all have in common is the school is the hub of the community. It’s really a place where programs, resources and services come together," she said.

The Chute Pilot

YOU has operated an after-school program at Chute since the 1990s, providing academic assistance, enrichment activities, mentoring, and clinical services. "Because our program is already so holistic, United Way saw an opportunity to fund us to build on that holistic programming and establish a pilot for a community school at Chute," said Ms. Carpenter.

Jim McHolland, principal at Chute, was receptive to the idea, she said.

"There is already a lot going on at Chute," said Ms. Carpenter. In addition to YOU’s after-school program, there are after-school sports activities run by FAAM and other groups. The school has a Homework Club that meets three days a week.

In the first year of the pilot, YOU took a two-pronged approach: 1) address some obvious needs, and 2) simultaneously begin a needs assessment that will lead to developing goals and measures of success for a community school.

"There were some early obvious needs we wanted to respond to," said Ms. Carpenter. Many parents, teachers, and administrators said a lot of kids needed eye glasses. In response, YOU offered a "vision clinic" at which Art of Vision optometrists fitted 39 students with prescription eyeglasses at no cost. For students who could not attend the vision clinic, optometrists with For Eyes Optical provided support.

YOU also organized a Holiday Outreach program to provide gifts and food to about 50 families in partnership with First United Methodist Church and the City of Evanston. They partnered with the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation to provide winter coats to students. YOU sponsored a tax-preparation clinic at the school in partnership with the National Community Tax Coalition.

The pilot also established the "Academic Advocates" program, a one-on-one mentoring relationship for sixth-graders who were struggling in math, reading and life skills.

The Needs Assessment

While these programs were being offered, "We did the beginnings of a needs assessment," said Ms. Carpenter. She said the school staff handles the academic school day "very well," and the needs assessment focused on other things.  

She said it is important that the school community determine its own goals based on "what it feels are its distinct needs," rather than bringing in a set model for the community school. There is no preconceived plan.

Ms. Carpenter said she met individually with parents and teachers and held three small group meetings to discuss the community’s needs. 

Some of the topics that have come up, she said, are access to health care, access to healthy eating, recreation, truancy, parent education, jobs, homelessness and connecting to one another.  "We’re starting broad," she said.

During this summer, the community will take "buckets" of goals and begin to talk about "what are the measure of success," said Ms. Carpenter. For health care, the measures might be every child who needs eyeglasses has them, every household should have a doctor they consider their family doctor, the rate of diabetes should be no higher than a specified percentage, she said.

They will then see how the community is currently living up to these measures and whether there is an organization in Evanston that might partner with the community school to achieve these goals. "It gives us a way to prioritize," said Ms. Carpenter.

As an example, she said Erie Family Health Center currently provides affordable health services in Evanston. The community school could analyze how to connect the school community to Erie Health Center, such as by providing a regular clinic at the school, by providing health information nights or booths at school events, or through some other means.

"The nice thing about being in Evanston is we have all the resources really that we need," said Ms. Carpenter. "A big part of the community school in Evanston is integrating services. How do we integrate them better in the schools. The schools are a natural place to start that integration."

To make this work requires "as a minimum" dedicated funding and a strong lead agency that serves as the "glue" for the integrated effort, says a report prepared by Elev8 Chicago, a group of community schools in Chicago.

Parental Leadership

"A big part of our work is building a different definition of parent leadership," said Ms. Carpenter. "In conversations with people about community schools I really try to put an emphasis about changing the face of parent leadership to be more representative and to mean different things than it has traditionally meant in Evanston."

Drawing on lessons learned by LSNA, she said, you have to ask parents what their goals are, what they’re good at, what they can offer. "Give parents an entry point into the school."

"When you open the doors of the schools to meet the needs of families such as through an ESL class, health care, tax preparation services, that builds space that becomes comfortable for other things."

She gave an example – a grandmothers’ group. Grandmothers raising their grandkids may be reluctant or unable to be involved in the PTA, but they may want to meet other grandmothers and exchange ideas about their grandkids’ use of Facebook, or how to best contact a teacher, or how to find out what their grandkids’ homework assignment is. If the school facilitates a meeting place and the exchange of information between grandmothers, "it provides an entry point into the school," said Ms. Carpenter.

"Parents become more champions of their children’s education when you very intentionally engage them and their goals and their lives."

Expanding the Community School Model

"I think everyone is receiving it well," said District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy. He said the program at Chute is not a "pilot" in the sense that it is a new concept that needs to be tested. "Community schools have had good results throughout the country. The question is whether we can bring the array of supports and resources together in a way that’s effective," he said. "It appears we’ve been able to do that.

"We’re showing that we can replicate the kind of outcomes and experiences that have been successful in other places," Dr. Murphy said.

When asked if he was open to the idea of expanding the community school concept to other schools in District 65, Dr. Murphy said, "I’m very open to this, I think, by definition, schools are part of the community. Any effort that serves to bring supports and success closer together and in a more coordinated fashion for the youth of our community is something that has to be looked at for replicating and expanding."

"I am very happy that YOU is a community partner and is piloting their community school initiative," said Katie Bailey, a member of the District 65 School Board. "Metrics indicate that community schools can improve outcomes, including  achievement. YOU’s commitment to the community school model and Missy [Carpenter’s] understanding of the benefit of community schools and her commitment to work with specific communities to serve their needs will benefit District 65. As a School Board member and a member of YOU’s Community Counsel, I look forward to supporting this initiative."

District 65 School Board President Tracy Quattrocki was also supportive. "As a School Board member and long-time YOU supporter," she said, "I am excited to see YOU and the District working together closely to roll out the community school model in Evanston.  With the success of the Chute pilot, it is my hope that this model can be expanded to other schools in the District.

"The Board is also eager for a discussion of the community school model to be included in our upcoming strategic planning process, thus ensuring that the social, emotional and academic needs addressed through this initiative are reflected in the District’s vision going forward," Ms. Quattrocki added.  

Seth Green, YOU’s executive director, thinks YOU’s after-school program is a natural fit for a community school, but would like to see other community organizations partner in the effort.

"We see it as a kind of partnership with the after-school program," said Mr. Green. "We would naturally be a fit to run the after-school program in a lot of places. But community schools we see as something that numerous agencies in this community would be natural owners of, not just us, but YMCA, Family Focus and the School District.

"Our goal with Chute is we want to pilot something, but then hopefully get it to be a shared effort by the community and have numerous groups supporting and funding it."

Impact of Community Schools

Many papers and research briefs describe the positive effects of community schools. In a report,Positive Student Outcome in Community Schools (2012), the authors say many of the analyses are not based on rigorus research models. However, they point to several studies which they say are "methodologically rigorous." The studies found positive effects for "Communities in Schools," a nationwide organization that provides wrap around services in 200 schools in the nation, and for community schools in Tulsa, Ok. The report itself found positive effects in Redwood City, California. The positive effects include higher academic scores, lower drop-out rates, higher attendance rates, lower discipline problems and improved student attitudes.

In a paper "Community School Results" (2013), the Coalition for Community Schools describes generally the academic progress taking place in community schools in nine cities across the country, and cites examples of how other community schools are improving students’ work habits, efforts and attitudes toward learning.

In Chicago, Elev8 Chicago, an initiative with five community school partners says it has incorporated a rigorous evaluation framework and is being independently evaluated by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, an evaluation expected to take place over the next few years. In the meantime, Elev8 Chicago issued a report with these early lessons:   

• Integrated programs and services "make it possible for collaborating partners to provide more efficient services and to achieve a powerful collective impact on students and families."

• "Expanded learning programs provide a backbone for engaging students and families in the life of schools. These programs help young people become excited about learning and keep them safe during the critical afterschool hours. They also foster supportive relationships between students and adult."

• "Annual surveys in Elev8 schools show that students’ sense of belonging, parent support for student learning and perceived support from teachers have all increased since Elev8 started."

• "Elev8 schools have seen reductions in disciplinary incidents and perceptions of school safety."

• "Elev8 programs brought new parents into the schools and strengthened ties with parents who were already involved. … Such connections are critical for helping students succeed."

• "School-based clinics help students manage chronic illnesses like asthma and improve school-wide immunizations and attendance rates. Counseling services have been particularly sought after at Elev8 schools, suggesting that without school-based health centers, students mental health needs may go largely unaddressed."

• "Supports like school-based healthcare, high-quality expanded learning programs, and parent engagement have all been linked to better outcomes for youth."

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Y.O.U. Takes Holistic Approach in After-School Program
By: Larry Gavin
Published: July 17, 2013  

On a typical school day, the Youth Organizations Umbrella (YOU) provides three hours of after-school activities and supports to hundreds of students. After a snack, students spend an hour on academic time, then shift to enrichment activities. During the session, some students spend time with a mentor. Some receive counseling services. YOU also attempts to empower parents.

 In many ways, YOU’s program is the backbone of what is called a “community school.”

In the 2012-13 school year, YOU served more than 700 students in its after-school programs, who typically participate three days a week. YOU has operated the programs at Nichols and Chute middle schools since the 1990s, and expanded to Oakton and Washington elementary schools in 2003. Recently, the program expanded to Dawes, King Lab Magnet School and to Lincoln Junior High in Skokie. 

YOU also operates a program at Evanston Township High School.

“The core idea of YOU is that all kids deserve high quality out-of-school experiences,” Executive Director Seth Green told theRoundTable. “In our community, families come from very different means. Fortunately some families have the opportunity to provide their kids with out-of-school activities through their own pockets. Other families have the same aspiration for their kids, but they don’t have the same resources to support their kids in high quality out-of-school experiences. Our role is to support those families and provide their kids with all the out-of-school experiences that will propel them to success.”

What makes YOU’s program different from many others is its holistic approach.

“We wrap around the child in a way that is very aligned with what the school is trying to do and that is very focused on supporting the parent in the important work they have to do with their child,” said Mr. Green.

“Our greatest partner in all this is the schools,” he said. District 65 administrators and principals provide ideas on how to set up the program; teachers at the schools keep YOU staff apprised about what students are learning in the classrooms; and District 65 makes its schools available for the program.

The Umbrella

 “We have an open door to everyone,” said Mr. Green. “At the same time we are very careful to really try to target kids who may greatly benefit from this experience and who have huge potential that might not otherwise be realized.”

YOU collaborates with the schools. Typically a social worker at the schools will ask parents if it is okay for the school to share information with YOU and okay for YOU to reach out to them. “Our preference,” said Mr. Green, “is for us to be eagerly offering the opportunity rather than for parents to just get a card and be told this is another resource.”

Students are also referred by other agencies, such as the YMCA, Family Focus and the Local Area Network (LAN), and by parents who have kids in the program.

About 92% of the students in YOU’s program are from low-income households, as measured by those who receive free or reduced-fee lunches at the schools. About 65% are African American and 25% Latino.

YOU is making a concentrated effort to reach out to Latino households, said Mr. Green. Next year, YOU will have a Spanish-speaking program at each school community it serves.

Academic Time

The academic time is “time to do homework, but it’s also a time to sharpen reading skills and do independent reading or to do worksheets or activities to boost mathematic skills,” said Janese Johnson, co-leader of YOU’s after-school program at Chute.

“What’s been a big help this year,” she added is, “some teachers send us the homework assignments every day,” so YOU staff know what the assignments are. “We also have a physical presence in the school, going to the same team meetings and curriculum meetings as the teachers go to during the school day. … In that way we can hear and see what’s going on curriculum-wise in the school. Teachers and school staff also have an opportunity to tell us about things they’re seeing that would be helpful to us or give us tips to help the kids in their learning.”

In addition to providing tutors during academic time, YOU is able to make other resources available and instill habits for good learning.

“This past school year, one of the huge ways I saw it helping kids was we had access to the computer lab after school,” said Kathy Graves, YOU’s site coordinator at Nichols. “Our youth who did not have computer access at home to complete papers or essays or other homework assignments were able to use that time and use it well.”

She added, “It also gives them a really structured and sometimes quiet space or time to concentrate and also get them the help that they might not be able to get at home for various reasons.”

Angelo Cross, YOU’s site coordinator at Oakton Elementary School, commented on developing good study habits. He said, “We teach kids about organization, responsibility and what their role is in their education … We try to teach them why it’s important to do quality homework and why it’s important to give a good effort so you get the most out of it.

 There is a ratio of about one tutor or helper for seven students, said Mr. Green. Many tutors are on staff at YOU, but almost 100 are students at Northwestern,  DePaul or Loyola universities who typically spend 10 hours a week on the program. The college students are generally in a work-study program funded through their respective schools.

Enrichment Activities

The second portion of the after-school program provides a wide-range of “social and emotional enrichment activities,” such as sports, art, dance, music, poetry writing, photography, videography, theatre, science, cooking and life-skills workshops. 

“Our belief is that the activities are actually the most important time,” Mr. Green said. “At our core we’re a social and emotional agency. … This is where we feel youth development happens.” Students select from a list of four to five activities to participate in on a particular day of the week for eight weeks.

“It’s just a way to have the kids enjoy things they like or to expose them to things that they don’t know about or would not otherwise be able to do outside of YOU,” said Ms. Johnson. “We want the kids to have fun, but even in enrichment time, they’re still learning. We try to be very intentional in everything we do.”

 As an example, she said if the activity is cooking, “the students are making a food product, but they’re still learning about math and fraction conversion or they’re learning about patience and problem-solving. The kids see it as a way to have fun and do some cool things, but it’s really a part of continued learning and learning in a different way.”

Ms. Graves said, “We try to take the things they’re interested in and turn it into something they can build on.” Some kids were interested in building things, so “we formed an architecture club. We told the kids what being an architect entails, and how you can turn that into a career. We also gave them some tangible things to do, like building a picnic table and a bench.”

Mr. Cross said YOU partnered with the Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre Group to offer enrichment in radio broadcasting, a program funded by a 21st Century grant through District 65. “We had a lot of kids who were very shy, soft-spoken,” he said. “The program taught kids the power of speaking, communication and being able to create your own voice. The kids developed confidence to talk, and to present in front of groups of people.

“We had a couple of parents come in and say their child had a complete transformation – where their child became very vocal and outspoken,” Mr. Cross added.

Other community organizations often partner in providing enrichment activities. For example, staff at the Open Studio Project may come to a school and work with kids on an art project. Kids may go to the YMCA to learn to swim; Literature for All of Us leads book discussions; Northwestern University provides its STEM curriculum called FUSE in which kids build robots; the YWCA offers its building healthy relationships curriculum.

“If there’s a resource in the community, we try to get our kids connected to it,” said Mr. Green. “And most of these agencies are doing this for free. Because of their own missions, they want to serve a broad group of kids. A huge part of our role is just connecting kids.”


YOU matches up approximately 50 children in the after-school program with a mentor, who provides individualized support for a student who is at risk of failing in school, delinquency or violence.

Initially, mentoring takes place on the same site as the after-school program for an hour each week. After the student and mentor are comfortable with each other, they may go to cultural, sports or other events.

“The mentorship program is extremely integrated with the after school program,” said Mr. Green. “The mentors check in with staff and share information with the case management team.”

“It’s often very difficult for our middle-school youth to feel connected to adults that they trust and feel are looking out for their best interest,” said Ms. Graves.

“What I’ve seen in the mentorship pairs is that the youth go from being kind of nervous or self-conscious around adults to being more willing to speak up knowing they have somebody who has their back and is looking out for them,” she added.

Parent engagement

“Parental engagement is a huge part of what we do,” said Mr. Green. “One of the principles we live by is that ‘knowledge is in the room.’ We have extraordinary parents. Our goal is to really elevate the voices of great parents that we have and create fabulous peer-learning exchanges.”

YOU staff have one-on-one meetings with parents during the intake process, and then maintain regular contact with parents through progress reports, phone calls and home visits. The first call is to say something positive about their child.

“From the beginning we let parents know it’s not just our relationship with parenting your child,” said Ms. Johnson. “It’s a relationship with us and your child and the family and the school. We’re all in this together. It’s not like, ‘give us your child and we’ll take care of him or her for two or three hours.’ It’s ‘give us your child and we’ll work with you to make your child successful.’”

YOU also hosts Family Nights about once a month which are “typically learning experiences,” said Mr. Green. “The parents are learning from each other.”

Mr. Green gave an example that at one Family Night, parents watched a documentary about bullying, and a discussion was then led by two parents. One parent in the group said if his child was bullied, he would say ‘stand up and fight for yourself.’ One parent leading the discussion responded, “You don’t want to do that because your child would then be the aggressor.” He suggested the child assert himself with his voice and tell school authorities.

“My sense,” Mr. Green said, “is if that was said from the mouth of one of our staff or from the mouth of an ‘expert,’ it would have felt very different than hearing it from the parent they see as their peer.”

Mr. Cross said YOU piloted an additional way to reach out to parents through “grades and goals” meetings at Oakton this year. YOU parents were invited to meet with YOU staff after they had their parent/teacher conference and “to create an action plan for the students.” He said, “We came up with a strategy to help support the students throughout the year, consistent with what the schools were trying to do.”

It is another way to reach out to parents and connecting YOU’s work the schools, Ms. Cross said.

Clinical Counseling

Another piece of the program is provided through YOU’s social workers and counselors.

“We recognize our kids are only successful if we work with our families in things that they might need,” said Ms. Johnson. “Many parents do take us up on our clinical services if a family or individual youth needs that tool. We’re meeting the kid where they are. We’re also meeting the family where they are.”

“About 10% of the kids are getting counseling from us,” said Mr. Green. “We have family meetings as well.” He added while most counseling is with the child, “We also have some home visits to facilitate important conversations with the family.”

Impacting Youth

Mr. Green said 71 percent of the students who both participated in YOU’s after-school program and had a mentor last year increased their grade-point average in school, and 91 percent increased their social skills according to pre- and post-evaluations. About 70 percent of YOU parents participated in Family Nights and other activities.

 “What really makes our program unique is the approach we take,” said Ms. Graves, the site coordinator at Nichols. “We look at the whole child and don’t say we’re just an after-school program and we’re going to do homework with students. We find ways to engage them across the board so we are still giving them the academic push, but we’re really meeting their needs socially and emotionally and being a great support system.”

Between sixth and eighth grade, “you see such a remarkable change in their demeanor and their attitudes toward school and toward adults in school,” she added. “We give them a very different perspective on how to engage with adults and really try to prepare them to advocate for themselves.”

“What sets us apart is that we really do reach and strive for the total package of what a kid is,” said Ms. Johnson, co-leader at Chute. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

She said the after-school program teaches kids to be confident they can succeed and to manage their emotions and develop problem-solving skills. “We work with the kids on how to channel things correctly and positively so if they have a negative interaction they don’t explode, but can calmly walk away from a situation or clearly communicate their needs in a way that’s beneficial,” said Ms. Johnson.

Mr. Cross, site coordinator at Oakton, said the major change he sees in kids is the kids becoming invested in the schools and the parents becoming invested in their child’s education.

“We’re very much about academics,” he said, “but we’re also trying to figure out things outside of academics, such as emotional well-being. If there’s things going on at home that are affecting their being able to come to school and give their best every day, we kind of investigate that so we can provide resources, whether it’s mentors or clinical counseling support services.

“It’s kind of like equalizing the playing field for families and students so they can do their best at school,” Mr. Cross continued. “Not everybody is able to come to school and focus solely on education. There’s so many things that affect each and every student. Our job is to be able to provide the resources or the know-how or at least the supports so they can do the best job at school.”

School District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “The reason YOU has a good after-school program is because of their leadership and because of the vision of their board and their staff in creating a scope of activities and experiences that enliven the life experiences of students and also serves their school experience.”

In June, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago presented YOU with the Education Impact Award, one of three awards given at United Way’s annual community celebration. YOU was selected for its work as a regional leader in connecting youth and families to the highest quality, most comprehensive out-of-school support through its programming.

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Y.O.U. wins United Way award
By: Bill Smith
Published: June 19, 2013 

Evanston-based Youth Organizations Umbrella has received the Education Impact Award from United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.

The award was presented at United Way’s Going the Distance Community Celebration, a gathering earlier this month that brought together hundreds of metro Chicago business and community leaders who are committed to supporting children and families in need.

The award recognizes Y.O.U. for its transformative impact on middle school youth and their families. United Way presented awards in three areas -- education, income and health. Y.O.U. was selected for the education award because of the high-quality educational resources it provides to prepare middle youth for success in high school and beyond.

“We are thrilled and truly honored by this award,” said Seth Green, Y.O.U. executive director. “United Way literally authored the best-practice plan for how to prepare middle school youth for success, and LIVE UNITED 2020 is changing the story of our region. Receiving this award from such a trusted and vital leader is an extraordinary affirmation of our work.”

Marcia McMahon, regional chief professional officer of United Way North-Northwest, said “Y.O.U. has been an outstanding partner and continues to go above and beyond, sharing their time, resources and expertise to ensure the youth in our community are equipped with the tools they need to succeed in school and in life.”



Innovative Partnership Between Y.O.U. and YWCA Evanston/North Shore Seeks to Reduce Dating Violence
By: jmcbratney
Published: March 12, 2013

Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore (YWCA) have received a grant of $350,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). The grant, one of only 20 such grants made nationally and the only one in Illinois, is part of a new program designed to more effectively reduce dating violence. The grant will bring together Y.O.U and the YWCA to provide “a comprehensive approach to dating violence that includes services for victims, prevention programs, partnering with schools and engaging men and boys in ending violence against women,” according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

“This builds on our historic partnership,” said Seth Green, Executive Director of Y.O.U. “The YWCA and Y.O.U. share a commitment to reducing violence and promoting equity in our community. For many years, we have worked together to engage youth in dialogue and activities that build healthy relationships and reduce dating violence.”

Y.O.U. will spearhead the project, called "Allied Against Violence," which will deeply engage young men in Evanston as advocates in reducing sexual and domestic violence and build alliances across genders and generations to prevent domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The partnership will include mentors from Loyola Men’s Project.

"Allied Against Violence" will empower a group of teenage males to become spokespersons in the community for building healthy relationships and preventing violence against women. These young men will then be selected to serve as formal interns to implement public awareness campaigns that enlist their peers, families, and the broader community in standing up against violence.

“We are very excited to partner with Y.O.U. and the Loyola Men’s Project on this grant,” said Karen Singer, President/CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. “Violence against women continues to be a pervasive problem affecting all our communities. If we are going to turn it around, we must engage boys and men in the conversation and work side by side to end it. This partnership is our opportunity to do that!”

"Allied Against Violence" brings together three organizations with expertise and resources critical to the success of the project. Y.O.U. has deep, trusting relationships with young men of color, the target population of the grant. The YWCA provides comprehensive domestic violence services to women and their children, and works in schools on building healthy relationships and universities on issues of campus dating violence. Loyola Men’s Project, which empowers men to take a stand against rape and other forms of violence in their daily lives, will provide well-trained university students as mentors for participating youth.

“This is about innovation,” added Green. “The grant ‘supports innovative prevention strategies that encourage men and boys to work as allies with women and girls to prevent domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.’ Each partner brings critical resources to the table, and we are so hopeful that this comprehensive approach will have a profound and lasting effect on the lives of young people in Evanston.”




New Choice for Wandering Kids
By: Nick Katz
Published: March 7, 2013

MORTON GROVE — Yessi Martinez was immediately drawn to a digital SLR camera wielded by a Pioneer Press photographer.

The Lincoln Junior High eighth grader smiled as he showed her how to hold the camera and shoot.

“This is wonderful,” she said.

Photography is one of her main interests, and one that Brian Williams said he hopes to encourage through a new after-school program at the Skokie-Morton Grove District 69 school.

Williams said the new program can’t afford SLR cameras, but he plans to find some point-and-shoot versions so that his kids can take them out into the community and learn both about photography and the place they live.

“It’s the kind of activity we want to do,” said Williams, director of the Y.O.U. Spartan Program at Lincoln.

Community involvement is one of the goals of the new program, an extension of a long-running non-profit program in Evanston, Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.).

The Lincoln program is being funded through a grant from the Illinois State Board of Education that provides $150,000 a year for five years.

A total of 39 sixth, seventh and eighth graders are enrolled so far, and Williams said his target is about 75.

Although it is open to all students at the school, it is aimed at those who may not have as many options for after-school activities.

“Our goal is to address what we believe is the opportunity gap in racially and ethnically-diverse communities,” said Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U. “We know these gaps are the largest where there are low-income youths.”

Even as Williams discussed the program, another student showed up in the classroom he was using on a recent day, asking how to join. Many of his referrals, Williams said, have come from teachers at the school.

The program runs from 3 p.m. to about 6 p.m., and includes an hour for homework, a snack and some special activity such as work in a computer lab. Last week, the participants were slated for their first field trip to the North Shore Center for Performing Arts to see a Civil War play.

Williams said that among the goals of the program are academic assistance and social development.

Another key is getting his students involved in the community.

“One of the things we want to do is cultivate community connections,” Williams said.

For some students, he said, even a visit to a retail store can turn into a problem. The store owner may think the kids are there for some negative purpose and the students may feel they are being watched.

“We want to build up a relationship, so they don’t feel that they are going to be run out of everywhere,” Williams said.

Martinez said her father signed her up for the Spartan Y.O.U. program, and at first she wasn’t all that thrilled.

“I didn’t want to go,” she said. “But I really, really like it now.”

She said the program has forced her to do her homework, and she’s enjoyed the other activities she has been involved in.

“There’s something different every day,” she said.

“Without it I would probably just go home,” she added. “It’s a good program if you have a lot of time on your hands.”

Another student, Belle Cabrera, was helping a fellow student with her math homework. Williams offered her some guidance, advising her not to actually do the homework, but to offer some advice instead.

“When we get to play games, we have a lot of fun,” Cabrera said of the program. “Y.O.U. is a lot of fun. I’d recommend it to anyone.”

Currently, Williams is looking for volunteers to help supervise the kids and provide at least one supervisor for every seven students. He plans to reach out to Niles West High School to find high school students willing to help.

But he also is looking for parents or other community members interested in helping out.

All volunteers, he noted, go through a screening process that includes a background check.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Williams said.


Y.O.U. Director Tends "Community Treasure"
By: Natalie Hayes
Published: Feb. 11, 2013

When East Coast native Seth Green moved to Evanston about a year ago to undertake a new position as executive director of the Evanston Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella), he dove right in providing oversight to the largest youth development agency in the North Shore area.

If anyone was right for a job overseeing programs that help more than 850 at-risk youth each year, it was Green.

The Princeton University Graduate and Yale Law School alum has spent most of his adult life engaged in strategic social change efforts that aim to provide social and economic opportunities to low-income community members of all ages.

Green took more than a decade of experience working with east coast-based non-profits with him to Evanston, when he moved here with his wife Caitlin Fitz – an assistant professor of history at Northwestern University – in 2011.

Together the couple (who met in college while working on an advocacy campaign for fair wages) has made the North Shore their new home.

Outside of Y.O.U., Green is involved in the community as a member of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force and is a graduate of Leadership Evanston.

Q: When did you first get involved in working with social change organizations?

A: It all started my freshman year at Princeton when I became involved in activist efforts to raise the minimum wage of low-income staff members working on campus. Many of the workers did not have benefits, and I wanted to work to ensure that they could have access to a better life for their families. I’ve been blessed in life with lots of wonderful opportunities and I wanted others to have that as well.

Q: How has your interest in community service organizations developed over the years?

A: I led a social venture called the Job Opportunity Investment Network, which helps at-risk adults move into careers paying family-sustaining wages, and I also founded Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), an organization that empowers youth to tackle pressing social challenges through community-based action. Both were fabulous experiences where I learned how to run a non-profit by the seat of my pants. AID was very small at first, but as we grew it became a constant learning experience where I was constantly learning by doing. After five years, I decided I needed to switch to a new setting and tackle bigger goals.

Q: What were your new goals?

A: I joined a strategy-consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. in 2007 where I worked with large-scale non-profits like United Way and the Gates Foundation. My work as a consultant gave me insight into a host of non-profits, and I became a part of discussions at some of the biggest non-profit organizations in the country.

Q: How has your past experience given you leverage as a leader at Evanston Y.O.U.?

A: What I learned through all my past experience is that I love community-based work. That work has led to my belief in youth as the key investment for a socially and economically mobile country. It’s a huge honor to lead the Y.O.U. It’s really about the community working together to make the community a better place for all our kids.

Q: What are some of the ongoing issues in the community you’ve had to address as executive director of Y.O.U.?

A: Many people don’t realize that young students spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of the classroom. What those kids choose to do in their free time is a big indicator of where their lives will lead. We provide after-school and summer learning programs that are filled with exciting and engaging activities like building robots, theater groups, making documentaries and videos and other positive activities to help shape our youth. The idea is that every kid’s interest is sparked with an activity that becomes a reinforcement of academic development and a catalyst of learning.

Q: What family-based services does the Evanston Y.O.U. provide?

A: We provide mental health counselors, therapists, mentors, and parental engagement services.

Q: How did the shooting death of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman last year shape existing initiatives?

A: We’ve always been working to eliminate youth violence. It’s the core of our mission because when kids are healthy and successful they’re picking up a text book instead of a weapon. Since the shooting last year, the Y.O.U. has added special initiatives to help the community cope. We’ve held small-group discussions open to the community and have counselors available to make home visits and help families deal with the tragedy. We’ve also held several events to promote against gun violence.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important thing people should know about Y.O.U.?

A: I think we’re a community treasure. It’s all about a commitment to providing opportunities for people of all backgrounds. People in the Evanston community totally get that we have great diversity here and that we have to invest in that diversity in order to keep it. We believe that all the kids in Evanston should have an equal chance, and that’s the core of what we do.

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Evanston Youth Celebrate MLK Day with Message of Non-Violence
By: Jia You
Published: Jan. 21, 2013

A crowd of 200 Evanston residents clapped, cheered and danced a little Gangnam Style during Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration organized by the nonprofit Youth Organizations Umbrella.

YOU hosted the annual celebration, called Diverse Evanston Walks United, to give youth in the community an opportunity to speak out against violence, said Melissa Carpenter, YOU community schools manager. Other local nonprofits, including the McGaw YMCA and Evanston 150, co-sponsored the event.

The theme this year — “hear the echo” — is particularly “poignant” because of recent tragedies involving gun violence, Carpenter said.

“It’s a huge tragedy but also really an opportunity to open the doors to that conversation,” she said.

Local students put on the two-hour performance at the Nichols Concert Hall of the Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Ave. The performance featured singing, slam poetry and breakdance, interwoven with video clips of interviews with youth on violence prevention.

“If we start now, it can keep growing,” one girl in the video said.

“Maybe the adults should do a little more, too, not just the kids,” another said.

Graig Tertulien, a graduate of Evanston Township High School and YOU alumnus, sent a sobering message on the recent shootings with an original rap piece, “Gone.”

“God I can’t believe I’m making this song,” Tertulien sang. “I can’t believe another one’s gone.”

But the mood lightened when Oakton Community College students screened a short film featuring a kid participating in various YOU classes, including a Gangnam Style dance rehearsal with YOU staff. Several among the audience danced with the music in their seats.

Keynote speaker Tom Vanden Berk, who lost his 15-year-old son to gun violence in 1992, urged young people in the community to advocate for gun control through social media and petitions with state legislators. In a post-event interview with The Daily, Vanden Berk called accessibility to guns the cause of the violence “epidemic.”

“Get your voice heard immediately and strongly,” he said during his speech. “Remember it’s your friends and loved ones who are lost.”

The celebration serves to remind the Evanston community to work together on stopping violence, McGaw YMCA president Bill Geiger said.

“It’s a great opportunity to see people from across our community come together to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King,” Geiger said in an interview. “Hopefully it provides an experience that sustains us through the year."

Hawa Fahnbulleh, a Haven Middle School student who attended the celebrationsaid she supports the message to stop violence and "make each other feel loved."

State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-18th), who attended the event, said living King's legacy involves reducing poverty and the high school dropout rate.

“Dr. King talks a lot about unity,” Gabel said. “He talked a lot about … the war on poverty. To me, implementing what King wanted us to do is really to make sure that people don’t go into poverty.”

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Evanston Youth Group to Use ISBE Grant to Expand After-School, Summer Programs

By: Manuel Rapada
Published: Nov. 26, 2012

The Illinois State Board of Education awarded Evanston’s Youth Organizations Umbrella a $270,000 annual grant this month to launch after-school and summer programs at two more Evanston schools.

Come February, the nonprofit will organize after-school activities at Dawes Elementary School and Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School, servicing a total of seven Evanston schools and two other community sites [news release], according to a news release.

“We are thrilled to be expanding our services to Dawes and King Lab,” YOU executive director Seth Green said in the release.

Hardy Murphy, superintendent of Evanston-Skokie District 65, said in the release the grant will allow YOU to serve 150 more District 65 students, in addition to the more than 500 the organization already serves [news release].

“We know that these services make a real difference in the lives of youth and that they provide critical support to working parents,” Green said in the release.

The grant from the ISBE is renewable for up to five years, “assuming the continued availability of federal funds,” according to the release. In October, Green announced that YOU received a $166,500 federal grant for youth outreach programs.

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Y.O.U. Gets Grant to Expand After-School Program

By: Bill Smith
Published: Nov. 19, 2012

Youth Organizations Umbrella will expand its free after-school and summer learning programs to Dawes Elementary and King Lab schools in February thanks to a new grant from the state board of education.

The $270,000 annual grant is renewable for up to five years, assuming the continued availability of federal aid that funds the grants.

The Y.O.U. program offers activities to promote academic, social, and emotional development. 

“We are thrilled to be expanding our services to Dawes and King Lab,” said Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U. “We know that these services make a real difference in the lives of youth and that they provide critical support to working parents.”

Green says 71 percent of youth who actively participated in Y.O.U.’s afterschool and mentorship program last year increased their GPAs, and 91 pecent improved their social skills based on pre- and post- evaluations.

“This is great news for the youth of our District,” said Dr. Hardy Murphy, Superintendent of District 65. “Y.O.U. already supports more than 500 youth in the District annually and this new grant will allow Y.O.U. to provide a safe, enriching, and nurturing afterschool and summer experience to 150 more District youth each year.”

Each day, Y.O.U.’s afterschool programs offer students three hours of stimulating activities and support. Part of the time is devoted to homework assistance; the rest of the time is focused on hands-on, skill-building activities such as poetry workshops, science experiments, team sports, and art lessons.

“Y.O.U. provides vital services that help youth in our community succeed,” said Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. “The expansion of these services to new schools is great news for our community.”

Y.O.U. already operates afterschool programs at five Evanston schools – Chute, ETHS, Nichols, Oakton, and Washington – and at two Evanston community sites. Y.O.U. also recently received a competitive grant from the Illinois State Board of Education to open an afterschool program at Lincoln Junior High School in Skokie.

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Evanston Service Organizations Launch Collaborative Mentoring Effort

 By: Sammy Caiola
Published: Nov. 28, 2012

About 60 people gathered in the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on Tuesday to celebrate the launch of Evanston Mentors, a collective of the city's mentoring organizations. The new group will connect mentorship programs with one another so they can host events, share their practices and increase recruitment, said David Edelstein, Evanston Mentors founder. 

Evanston Mentors currently consists of 14 different community organizations, including the Child Care Network of Evanston, the McGaw YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chicago, and Youth Organizations Umbrella. The collaboration grew out of All Our Sons, an organization that Edelstein started in 2004 with funding from the Evanston Community Foundation. His aim at the time, he said, was to deal with issues facing Evanston's young men.

About a year and a half ago, Edelstein reached out to agencies he had met through All Our Sons regarding enhancing Evanston’s mentorship offerings. After applying for an ECF grant, he worked with leaders of the various agencies to create Evanston Mentors.

“The name is an aspiration, and it’s a description,” Edelstein said. “Our aspiration is that Evanston does mentor its youth. It’s a verb. It’s what we do in Evanston. We know our youth need mentorship, and we do that.”

The launch event featured a series of speeches from program directors, as well as mentor-mentee pairs. Speakers shared their hopes for the future of the collective and stressed the need for more mentoring services in Evanston.

Eric Witherspoon, Evanston Township High School superintendent, said he has worked with all of the involved organizations in some capacity. He emphasized the positive impact that mentors can have on students of all ages.

“At the high school, we know that no matter how many resources we have, and no matter how much access we have daily to young people, we still can’t possibly do it alone,”  Witherspoon said. “It does take the community. It does take all of us wrapping our arms around the young people in this community, committed to making sure that each and every one of them is getting the support and nurturing that they so much need and so much deserve.”

Main goals of the collaboration include bringing the agencies together for recruitment and organizing a joint training, Edelstein said. Evanston Mentors’ first meeting will be Dec. 11 at the McGaw YMCA, 1000 Grove St.

Throughout the night, mentors and mentees shared stories of friendship and growth. Tyler Dixon, YOU participant and ETHS junior, said her mentor is “more like a role model” and someone she “can confide in about anything.” As a student with an interest in journalism, she said she has learned much from Gwen Macsai, an Evanston resident who works at Re:sound Radio, a Chicago public radio station. Macsai has been in contact with Medill professors about helping Dixon sit in on a journalism class. She said the relationship has been mutually beneficial.

“As an adult, you don’t have a lot of contact with kids, and you forget what it’s like to be an adolescent," Macsai said. "They just anchor you in a different way than you get in other experiences. It’s really a great way of figuring out how to give back."


Y.O.U. Executive Director Featured for Social Justice Commitment

Published: Feb. 5, 2013

Being born with a cleft lip and palate was in many ways the birth of Seth Green’s passion for social justice. While repairable with 10 surgeries and 15 years of speech therapy and orthodontics, his condition showed him that often people focus on others’ differences instead of on their similarities. Fortunately, he had loving and supportive parents who taught him to believe he could do anything he wanted.

As a teenager, Seth began helping families of children who had cleft lips and palates. He provided reassurance and showed by example that the children could have normal lives. Unfortunately, many of these families were disadvantaged. “Those early experiences influenced my understanding of differences and how blessed I had been while others struggled,” he recalls. “The families had so much love for their kids, but they had fewer resources. The empathy I felt for them shaped my sense of self.”

At Princeton, Seth’s consciousness expanded from empathy for individuals to actions that challenged the unfairness and inequities existing in society. His sense of social justice led him to support a more equitable wage structure for low-income employees of the university. And, while he was studying in London, the events of 9/11/01 profoundly affected him. His interest in building greater understanding between U.S. residents and the rest of the world led him to found Americans for Informed Democracy (AID).

“During a very divisive time in our country – when ‘Freedom Fries’ were popular – AID encouraged students who had studied abroad to set up video conferences aimed at changing how we interact with people from other countries,” he explains. “Across the U.S, young people were having thoughtful conversations about how Muslims view us and about how Indonesians view global security, and a variety of topics. This was an antidote to the tone and environment in the U.S. at the time. Our goal was to present the world in a complex, peaceful and enlightened sense.”

AID recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with approximately 20,000 students at 1,000 universities still connecting with global citizenship.

Seth’s experiences “flying by the seat of my pants” in organizing and building AID showed him that he could be more effective in a more structured and resourced environment. Following law school, he joined the management consulting firm of McKinsey and Company to learn how to think strategically for non-profits. “That experience elevated my ability to accelerate social change by building buy-in and long-term relationships, influencing people and creating long-term transformative strategies. It was enormously helpful,” he says.

Using what he’d learned, Seth became CEO of the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN), a $5 million public-private partnership in Philadelphia, PA, that builds pathways out of poverty for vulnerable adults and their families. There he developed a network of innovative job training partnerships that helped more than 400 adults gain new skills and ultimately higher wages.

“JOIN is a model that helps low-skilled people move into family-sustaining careers,” Seth explains. “It helps them simultaneously get the education and the credentials they need to move up the ladder. For example, dietary aides in hospitals can receive education and training on site to transition into higher paying patient care.”

His work at JOIN inspired Seth to seek ways to intervene earlier and potentially have a greater impact on people’s futures. He became Executive Director of Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) in Evanston, IL. Y.O.U. provides services and leadership to help young people succeed through after-school enrichment, mentoring, counseling and crisis intervention. The aim is to ensure that all young people acquire the skills, self-confidence and opportunity to realize their potential.

“Our model has achieved fantastic results,” says Seth. “In fact, 71% of kids who actively participated in our mentorship and afterschool programs improved their GPAs last year.”

Seth believes there are many parallels between Y.O.U. and the Coca-Cola Scholarship program. “Both empower young people with resources to realize their potential and help them build transformative relationships with role models. They show us what we want to become. My Coca-Cola experience helped me to realize the potential of our work here in Evanston.”

“The Coca-Cola Scholarship program is really a connective tissue,” he adds. “It creates a community and a bridge to thousands of people to powerfully impact change. Our network of leaders across the world will totally transform our world.”

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Y.O.U. to Serve More Schools
Published: Nov. 20, 2012

Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) is set to offer free after-school and summer learning programs at Dawes Elementary School and King Lab Magnet School beginning in February of 2013.

Each day, Y.O.U.’s after-school programs offer students three hours of activities and support. Part of the time is devoted to homework assistance; the rest of the time is focused on hands-on, skill-building activities such as poetry workshops, science experiments, team sports and art lessons.

Late last week, the Illinois State Board of Education awarded Y.O.U. a competitive grant of $270,000 per year to launch these new programs, which will offer students a wide array of activities that promote academic, social, and emotional development.

The grant is renewable for up to five years, assuming the continued availability of federal funds, and thus is expected to total as much as $1.35 million.

"We are thrilled to be expanding our services to Dawes and King Lab," said Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green. "We know that these services make a real difference in the lives of youth and that they provide critical support to working parents."

He said 71 percent of youth who actively participated in Y.O.U.’s after-school and mentorship program last year increased their GPAs, and 91 percent improved their social skills based on pre- and post- evaluations.

"This is great news for the youth of our District," said Dr. Hardy Murphy, Superintendent of District 65. "Y.O.U. already supports more than 500 youth in the District annually and this new grant will allow Y.O.U. to provide a safe, enriching, and nurturing after-school and summer experience to 150 more District youth each year."

Each day, Y.O.U.’s after-school programs offer students three hours of activities and support. Part of the time is devoted to homework assistance; the rest of the time is focused on hands-on, skill-building activities such as poetry workshops, science experiments, team sports and art lessons.

"Y.O.U. provides vital services that help youth in our community succeed," said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. "The expansion of these services to new schools is great news for our community."

Y.O.U. will now operate after-school programs at seven Evanston schools – Chute, Dawes, ETHS, King Lab, Nichols, Oakton, and Washington – and at two Evanston community sites. Y.O.U. also recently received a competitive grant from the Illinois State Board of Education to open an after-school program at Lincoln Junior High School in Skokie.

"Y.O.U. is a key partner in our community-impact plan, LIVE UNITED 2020, providing kids and families in communities of greatest need with education, income and health resources they need most," said Joe Vanyo, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Regional Operations at United Way. "The expansion of Y.O.U.’s services to two new schools in Evanston moves our community one step closer in achieving our goal to help 50,000 underperforming middle school kids enter high school ready to succeed."

Y.O.U. Board President John Koski said that the exciting news should be seen as a community accomplishment. "Our success relies on the collective effort of this community –the partners, donors, staff, board and volunteers who make our work possible. In celebrating this news, we are celebrating all the stakeholders who make our programs strong."

Diverse Evanston Walks United with Youth Organizations Umbrella

Published: Jan. 23, 2013

Watch a video of DEWU here.

Residents of Evanston have a New Year’s resolution, less violence.  Evanston's child development agency, Youth Organizations Umbrella, held its annual Martin Luther King Day event advocating just that.

About 200 people gathered Monday for the seventh annual Diverse Evanston Walks United.

Guests warmed up and watched a range of performances at Nichols Concert Hall of the Music Institute, including politicians, local organizers, parents, and most importantly, as I learned, children.

Ordinary. Normal.  Not after several young adults and teenagers were shot dead in Evanston this fall.  YOU executive director Seth Green says Evanston's youth decided this year's message at Diverse Evanston Walks United: never again.

"Their expressions is their way of both raising their voice and also I think coming to terms with what they have seen and realizing that they can be greater than what they may see,” said Green.

And on Monday, Evanston's youth performed songs, dances and PSAs. 

"It was amazing,” said Green. “I can see the energy that the youth have and the message has to be brought to the community that you have to care about kids."

Green says he wants YOU to help push youth to that end result. Monday is a microcosm of the message. 

"When we have youth that are writing the message, when they are crafting the lyrics, when they are the ones behind the poetry, because it's their voice, they feel ownership and they are the owners,” said Green.

Michael Williams performed in the Maurice Oliver drum group to kick off the event.  He hasn't witnessed violence in Evanston but says he still learned an important message.   

"Stop the violence,” Williams said. “It's not cool.  Get out of a gang if you're in it.  Just stop the violence."

To green, Evanston took a major step Monday.

"When violence hits a community, it can go two ways,” he said. “People can become desensitized, they can think that is just part of the problem, or they can use that moment to raise their voice and say this is unacceptable.  We're lucky to live in a community that rallies like this and we're very lucky to have kids that as being part of that community, rally around it and make us great.”


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City Pauses to Remember Dr. King
Published: Jan. 30, 2013

With songs, stories, dancing and drums, the Evanston community recalled the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this week and last week.

The recent shootings and gun-violence were a recurring theme at Diverse Evanston United, a community-wide celebration of peace, diversity, unity, leadership and service held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Jan. 21. The event was sponsored by Youth Organization Umbrella, the McGaw YMCA, the Music Institute of Chicago, the North Shore United Way, the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore and Evanston 150.  

“For me, especially as we talk about Dr. King, one of the most powerful ideas is how they [Evanston’s youth] responded to the recent violence that has tragically been part of our community this fall,” said Seth Greene, executive director of Y.O.U.  “I just can’t imagine anything that could be more in line with Dr. King’s vision. 

“[Youths] had the courage to share their grief with our counselors. They had the extraordinary courage to start discussions through our community on how we build a more powerful Evanston, and they actually took action,” he said. 

At the celebration, many students – who were members of 12 groups – spoke out against violence in their poems, raps, songs, videos, or dance numbers.  

In a rap that he wrote in response to the recent shootings, Greg Tertuilen said,  “There’s a cycle, a cycle, a brand new cycle. The City of Evanston has lost another child. It hasn’t been a while since we lost the last one. So why does another mother have to bury her own son?”

Members of the Chute Theatre Group said in poems and raps, “You need to stop the violence. You need to stop it now.  … People think it’s cool. But we think it’s cruel.”

The Oakton Lyricist group said, “It ain’t funny when you kill, … when you kill it’s over, … I see violence everwhere, … The ones you kill end in a flat line, … We don’t want this to last.” 

Ralph Edwards from Cease Fire talked about some of the work his group does in Chicago, Decatur, Waukegan and other cities to prevent gang violence. “We are interrupters. We are all ex-gang members, “he said. “Basically we mediate conflicts for the gang members. We go to the first line to make sure that no one gets hurt, shot, stabbed.”

He said Cease Fire supplies resources, including, an identification card, a driver’s license, job training, a safe-haven – “anything they need to get out of a gang.” 

Tom Vanden Berk, who lost a son to gun violence in 1992, encouraged the 300 youth in attendance to use social media to help end gun violence. “Understand the enemy,” he said. “Let’s call the enemy the gun. …It’s an issue of illegal guns that are distributed and sold and there’s no accountability.”

“I’m excited about the commitment, the passion, the energy of this young crowd, and the hard work that you are going to do in the next year to make a change. It’s the young people who will make a difference,” he added.

Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of Evanston Township High School, said, “What a historic day this is. It’s been proclaimed as a day of community service. It’s been proclaimed as a day of celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and all of his commitment to diversity and unity and peace. It’s a day to celebrate the second inauguration of President Barak Obama.”

Mr. Greene said one thing he had been told by leaders in other communities where gun violence had occurred was, “Do not allow that violence to be accepted. Whatever you do, do not allow it to be accepted. Have everyone speak out, especially to young people.”

In summing up the celebration, he said, “What you saw today was our young people speaking out. If our Mayor, who was not able to be here today was here, she would have said, ‘ That is what makes us great,  and it is what will allow us to get over this.’”

Fleetwood Celebration

On Jan. 19 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center the theme was “I Am Somebody.” Serving as emcee, Aubrey Marquez, who often asked the audience to repeat that phrase, said the occasion was “not only to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy but to celebrate us. He spoke of us when we were not allowed to speak.”
Fifth Ward alderman Delores Holmes spoke about the value of listening to one another, and retired mayor Lorraine Morton described some of the pioneers in the civil rights movement who paved the way for Dr. King.

On Jan. 21 the theme was “Here the Echo: My Voice, My Community, My Future.” At Northwestern University, students and the community alike were invited to a staged reading of David Mamet’s “Race” and a candlelight vigil at Alice Millar Chapel.

On Jan. 28 Harry Belafonte spoke at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

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'Avi Adventure' Honors Evanston Man Who Died at 20

Published: Nov 5, 2012

In this letter to the editor, Evanston Community Foundation president Sara Schastok writes about the Avi Kurganoff Memorial Fund, which supports outdoor adventures for kids.

Dear Editor,

Some months ago, Evanston residents Judy Mendel and Jorge Kurganoff lost their cherished son, Avi, after an accidental fall while attending the University of Vermont. The outpouring of support for their son has been both generous and spirited. While not yet 21 when he passed away, Avi, who was studying social work, economic development and the environment, impacted all lives he touched—and he touched many! Through the gifts made in his memory to the Evanston Community Foundation, a fund in his name has been established and we are pleased to announce that its first grant will fundThe Avi Adventure, a group camping experience for elementary school youth at Y.O.U. next spring or summer. 

A glimpse of how Avi drew upon the challenges of white-water rafting shows just how and why this project is a fitting tribute. On a trip in January 2012 he said, "The biggest thing I learn from rivers is not to worry about things you can't control, and that's a big part of life ... There's so much out here you can't control, and there's so much out here you can control. You just kind of have to go with it and trust that you know what to do and how to do it. . . And the bond you build with people while you do it is pretty intense at times, pretty awesome and pretty epic. It's something I plan on doing for a very long time."

Judy and Jorge want to ensure that other Evanston youngsters can draw strength from their own adventures. As Y.O.U. staff envision the program, the Avi Adventure will bring together youth at Oakton and Washington elementary schools to learn about and experience the joy and power of the outdoors. Youth will spend one hour a week for eight weeks learning both hard and soft skills. Hard skills will include topics such as tying knots to help in making shelters, improving map reading skills, and learning about "Leave No Trace". Soft skills (social-emotional) will focus on values such as teamwork, inclusion, interdependence, along with understanding and accepting one another. The Avi Adventure will culminate in a camping experience where youth stay in tents by the Evanston lake shore and put to use what they have learned. A major theme throughout the program will be that both special relationships with others and a relaxed outlook on life can be derived from time spent appreciating the outdoors.

Y.O.U. will be partnering with McGaw YMCA Camp Echo, whose programs have been developing youth in the outdoors for nearly 90 years. The Camp Echo staff will provide support in teaching youth practical hard skills in preparation for a positive camping experience. 

We wanted the community to know that thanks to so many of you, the Avi Kurganoff Memorial Fund at the Evanston Community Foundation will give other children adventures that might be as transformative for them as they were for Avi. As the years pass, the Fund will grow and expand its reach, but at the heart of it will remain the belief that kids are capable of changing, that skilled and compassionate social workers can support them, and that new settings, especially outdoor adventures, hold a special power for children to, as in Avi's own words, "believe enough in themselves to take risks and become positive leaders."


Sara Schastok
President and CEO, the Evanston Community Foundation

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YOU receives $500,000 for street outreach program
By: Jia You
Published: Oct 4, 2012

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded Evanston nonprofit Youth Organizations Umbrella a $500,000 grant that will fund a street outreach program in the city.

YOU Executive Director Seth Green announced the news with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) at a community anti-violence rally Monday night. The department will award $166,500 to YOU annually in the next three years to fund youth outreach programs, especially those targeting the 18-26 age group, Schakowsky told The Daily on Wednesday.

“It appears that there is a large gap between the services available for at-risk teens and getting them into those programs,” Schakowsky said in an email. “Many programs end at age 18, leaving very vulnerable young people without the opportunities and support they need at a critical point in their lives. This grant will fill the gap.”

As the lead organization on the application, YOU will share the grant with the the city, Youth Job Center and YWCA Evanston/Northshore to create a coordinated street outreach program that connects at-risk youth with existing educational and employment programs, Green said.

“Evanston is a place where we have a rich amount of resources,” Green said. “The challenge is youth don't know how to navigate through them.”

To accomplish this goal, the city will use the grant to hire a part-time street outreach worker who can help disconnected youth find employment, housing and other social services, said Kevin Brown, director of Evanston’s Youth and Young Adult Division. The city currently employs a full-time street outreach worker, but this single staff member cannot meet the demand of all Evanston youth, Brown said.

“The outreach workers are necessary to reach a particular demographic group, the 18-to-26-year-olds,” he said. “These are young adults who are disengaged, and many are unemployed and not fully engaged in opportunities that will help them be better developed citizens.”

The grant will also allow the city to expand its youth engagement initiatives, such as the Building Career Pathways to Sustainable Employment program. Brown said the grant will also provide homeless and runaway youth with mentorship, education and employment opportunities.

Green said he envisions more Evanston youth will have jobs by the end of the three years.

“We’d like to see hundreds of youth who were on the street connected to jobs,” he said. “That would be the completion of our vision.”

Although Northwestern was not formally listed as a partner, Green said he expects NU community members to contribute as volunteers, mentors and researchers.

Evanston resident My Huynh said she thinks the program will help stop street violence in Evanston as long as the money is properly managed.

“If you have kids who are active in some kind of activity, there will be more monitoring of the kids and … they will have friends around to support them,” she said.

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Public group therapy session helps community grieve slain Evanston teen
By: Natalie Hayes
Published: Oct 4, 2012

Evanston mom Tanasha Slaton left the violent streets where she grew up in the South Side of Chicago to raise her children in the safety of Evanston’s picturesque tree-lined streets, but after the recent shooting of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman that feeling of safety has diminished.

Slaton was one of a panel of nine parents, students and mentors who gathered in front of a crowd of more than 100 community members the night of Oct. 1 at the McGaw YMCA for a group public-therapy session to discuss how the alleged murder of a good kid like Coleman could happen in the seemingly safe community.

“It breaks my heart because I brought my kids here from the South Side to be safe,” Slaton said. “Here’s a kid who wasn’t doing anything wrong and now he’s gone — how do you explain that to your own kids?”

Coleman, a popular freshman at Evanston Township High School, was shot to death during what Evanston police said was a case of mistaken identity as he walked home from a party with a group of people Sept. 22 on the 1500 block of Church Street. Wesley Woodson, a 20-year-old Evanston man and alleged gang member, was charged last week with Coleman’s murder.

“Every week something like this is going on in Chicago but we didn’t think it would happen in Evanston,” parent Leslie Robinson said. “It’s hard to know that Dajae chose the right route but still lost his life because his killer chose the wrong route.”

Though the shooting happened nearly two weeks ago the wounds Coleman’s death has left on the community are far from healed.

“Many of us spent the last 10 days grieving, and our hope is that sharing the pain we feel and our experiences dealing with that pain will help heal all of us,” said Seth Green, executive director of Evanston’s Youth Organizations Umbrella. “We have to remember that these incidents continue to live in our minds and cause trauma.”

Friends of Coleman painted the picture of a happy, well-mannered and respectful teenager who stayed out of trouble. He was an active mentor to young basketball players and planned on playing for the freshman basketball team at ETHS.

Speakers on the panel agreed that Coleman’s death has left a sense of hopelessness in the community, and that something needs to be done to reach out and mentor at-risk youth before they pick up a gun.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s question of how accessible guns are to teenagers was met with a disparaging response from Evanston youth mentor Charles Jefferson, of Chicago, who said weapons are easy to get on the streets.

“Where I grew up, you see these types of things on a daily basis,” Jefferson said. “When I found out the (alleged) shooter was a former classmate of mine, I was shocked, but the truth is that it’s easy for gangbangers to get their hands on guns in the black market.”

In an effort to provide positive role models to misguided teens who are at-risk for violence, the Youth Organizations Umbrella of Evanston (Y.O.U.) is looking for adults to volunteer an hour or more of their time each week to participate in arts, culture, sports and recreation, academic enrichment, and life-skills building activities with mentees.

Evanston Y.O.U. serves as many as 600 Evanston youths annually through out-of-school time programming at five community-based sites. For more information on how to get involved go to http://www.youevanston.org/.

On Sept. 21 the Evanston Y.O.U. received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to fund a street-outreach program geared toward engaging disconnected youths by connecting them with mentors, education and employment.

The grant will be dispersed at an annual amount of $166,500 for three years. Green said Y.O.U. will share the resources with the city of Evanston, the Youth Job Center, and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore to implement the programs.

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Evanston residents discuss impact of Dajae Coleman's death, search for solutions to violence
By: Ciara McCarthy
Published: Oct 2, 2012

More than 250 people gathered at the McGaw YMCA Monday evening to discuss the recent murder of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman and how his death impacted the Evanston community.

Evanston residents, parents and city staff filled the Children’s Center Auditorium in the YMCA, 1420 Maple Ave..

The forum was hosted by Youth Organizations Umbrella, Family Focus, the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, YWCA Evanston/North Shore and the Youth Job Center in addition to the YMCA.

For the majority of the open forum, a panel of nine community members reflected on the shooting and discussed city-wide effects of the tragedy. Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U. moderated.

Green announced that Friday evening, the Department of Health and Human Services granted Y.O.U., the city of Evanston, the Youth Jobs Center and the YWCA approximately half a million dollars over three years for community street outreach. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who attended the forum Monday night, encouraged Green to make the announcement.

Schakowsky later introduced the issue of gun control to the forum. Schakowsky, whose granddaughter is a freshman at ETHS, asked about the accessibility of guns in Evanston and its surrounding areas.

In response, Carolyn Murray, co-chair of W.E.S.T. (West Evanston Strategic Team), announced plans for a gun buy-back program, with plans to initiate the program in December. Discussion about a gun buy-back program began in July, but Coleman's death has expedited plans, she said.

The panelists also shared their immediate reactions to the news of Coleman’s death and how the tragedy affected them personally.

Kathy Graves, an Evanston resident and mother, spoke of the fear she felt after learning about Coleman’s death.

“It doesn’t matter how good your child is or what path they’re set on,” she said. “A bullet really doesn’t have a name.”

Graves added that in the case of youth homicide, the victims are not limited to those who have been killed.

“It is the Dae Daes that we’re losing, but it’s also the Wesleys,” Graves added in reference to Wesley Woodson III, an Evanston man who has been arrested and charged with Coleman’s murder.

Another Evanston mother, Tanashua Slaton, said that she had moved her family from the south side of Chicago specifically to avoid the kind of violence that ended Coleman’s life.

“I brought my children here so they could be safe, to escape this,” she said, her voice breaking as she neared tears. “This should not happen. We have to do something.”

Members of the panel also discussed the many programs available to Evanston youth but emphasized the need to reach out to kids who might be making the wrong choices — the ones who are least likely to take advantages of better options. Attendees advocated initiatives to make parents more aware of school-sponsored programs for their children.

The evening concluded with a slam poetry performance by Lamar Jorden, followed by “Change We Need,” a song by ETHS graduate Graig Tertulien.

Those in attendance appeared eager to continue the conversation, starting with Tuesday’s community meeting to discuss anti-violence initiatives, hosted by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

"It takes all of us in Evanston to step up,” Slaton said. “We all have to step up and take on responsibility for our community because this is our community and ultimately these are our children.”


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After Dajae Coleman's Death, YMCA Panel Searches For Path Forward
By: Jennifer Fisher
Published: Oct 2, 2012

In the week since 14-year-old Dajae Coleman was shot, Evanston Pride basketball coach Michael Johnson has gotten angry, cried in the shower, and slept very little. 

“It's probably the worst that I've felt,” Johnson said. “It’s just a senseless thing.” 

Speaking at a panel convened by local community groups Monday night, Johnson and other Evanston residents began the monumental task of moving forward — and trying to make some sense out of the Evanston Township High School freshman’s tragic death.

Police say Dajae was shot by an Evanston man who believed Dajae was someone else. Dajae and his friends were walking home from a party at Church Street and Florence Avenue Saturday, Sept. 22, Wesley Woodson, 20, of Evanston, fired four shots at the group, according to police. Wooddson was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm on Friday. 

Johnson and a handful of other panelists who knew Dajae said the community had a responsibility to come together to prevent another violent death. Before a crowded room at the McGaw YMCAChildren’s Center, they talked about parenting, gun buyback programs, youth activities and the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.

Dajae’s Death Still Brings Up Raw Emotion

Johnson’s son saw Dajae just hours before he died, when his son and Dajae went out to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings along with other members of the Evanston Pride basketball feeder team.

“The only reason Dae Dae didn’t stay with us was because his girlfriend was at the party,” Johnson’s son, Mike, told him the morning after Dajae died. Mike couldn’t stop crying on the phone, telling his father he believed he could have stopped his friend from going to the party. 

Johnson’s fellow panelist, Saveion Shadd, is also a member of the Evanston Pride team. He choked up as he recalled learning of Dajae’s death. 

“For this to happen to him, it’s just not right,” he said. “He was just that kid that minded his own business — laughing, joking and playing.” 

Programs For Kids Are a Start 

Asked what could be done to prevent future deaths like Dajae’s, Johnson said he believes youth programs like Evanston Pride are a part of the answer. He and fellow panelist Andre Patrick formed the basketball team last year, enrolling 84 kids in sixth through eighth grade. Their goal is not just to prepare kids to play for Evanston Township High School, but to make them the “best student-athletes they can be.”

Both men have full time jobs, and organized the team on a volunteer basis. In addition to the coaching they already provide (also from volunteers), they want to take the kids on trips, offer tutoring and bring in parents to take about their careers.

“Basketball is just a feeder for what we do,” Patrick says. “Ultimately … we want to send as many kids as possible off to college.” 

Johnson cautioned that youth programs must focus not just on the kids who are “doing everything right,” like Dajae, but those kids who are struggling, too. 

“I used to be in the streets a little bit. Did I have to be? No, it’s what I chose to do,” he said. “A lot of these kids, with the right guidance, they’ll do right.”

Mentoring programs — like the many already offered in Evanston — could be a starting place, he said. 

Local business owner Tony Strong, who attended the meeting, described Evanston’s children as “the infrastructure of our community,” comparable to the roads and streets that make up the infrastructure of the city. 

“We need people who are not afraid to get out there. Why should I be afraid of a 13, 14-year-old kid? But you see it every day,” he said. “That’s still a child, that’s still one of God’s children, and he still has a heart.”

Panelists Say Parents Need Support Services, Too

Helping kids like Woodson, said one panelist, comes down to providing support not just for kids but also for parents

“It is the Dae Daes that we’re losing, but it’s also the Wesleys,” said Evanston mom Kathy Graves. “He lost his life as well. He’s going to be in jail if he’s convicted.”

“If as a parent you’re lost and you don’t have a job and you don’t have resources or you only know a particular lifestyle, how do you expose your child to something else?” Graves asked. 

Parent Leslie Robinson said she knew both Dajae’s and Woodson’s families.

“I’m still trying to put things together because I know he had good parents, but Wesley chose a different path,” she said.

Robinson volunteers with several local organizations in Evanston, including Family Focus and the Evanston Substance Abuse Coalition. She's also volunteered as a playground monitor, an experience that opened her eyes to the need in the community. When Robinson couldn’t come to school one day, she recalled, she later found out that a little girl broke down in tears and had to see the school social worker. Turns out, Robinson’s hug was the only one she got each morning.

More parents should volunteer, and more parents need to be aware of the resources available to them, Robinson said. 

As a start, Johnson said he believes parents need to take responsibility for teaching their kids to be respectful of guns. 

“My granddad was a hunter, so I’m a big fan of taking my kids hunting,” he said. “I think that teaches kids to have a better respect for guns, when they’ve seen what kind of destruction it can cause.”

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston), who sat in the audience, asked the panelists whether it was easy for kids to get guns. Many nodded their heads. 

Panelists, Attendees Call For Gun Control 

“How is it that easy for our kids here in Evanston, and in Chicago, to walk around with guns?” Schakowsky said, to applause. “It’s insane.” 

Johnson said he knows some people go to gun shows in Indiana, which may have looser regulations. Another panelist said gang members use younger kids to help procure the weapons.

Carolyn Murray, co-chair of the Fifth Ward’s West Evanston Strategic Team (WEST), said the city had finally approved her group’s idea for a gun buyback program, something they’d been pushing for two months. The Evanston Community Foundation has supplied an initial grant of $1,000, and they hope to raise even more money to take guns off the street from accidental shootings or suicides.

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It’s official: Y.O.U gets $500K grant
By: Charles Bartling
Published: Oct 2, 2012

When Youth Organizations Umbrella Executive Director Seth Green opened his mail Tuesday morning, he found confirmation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of a three-year grant totaling nearly $500,000 to help his organization put a curb on youth violence in Evanston.

It put an official stamp on a tentative announcement made Monday night by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) at a community gathering of Evanstonians to consider ways to rally the community behind efforts to reduce the incidence of youth crime.

Green told Evanston Now that the grant is $166,500 annually for three years and would be shared with the City of Evanston, the Youth Job Center, and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore as the program for “street outreach” is implemented.

The goal of the program, Green said, is “to engage disconnected youth and connect them with mentors, education, and employment, so that they leave the streets and build productive futures.”

The Street Outreach program, he added, will utilize a collaborative, community-based, multi-lingual approach.

“First, we will employ street outreach workers,” he said, “ who will engage runaway, homeless, and disconnected youth in areas of Evanston where they are known to congregate.

“Second, we will meet the immediate needs of these youth, including providing crisis intervention, emergency shelter, domestic violence support, and other services.

“Third, we will provide these youth with educational opportunities, job training, connection to paid employment, counseling, and a wide array of positive youth development activities, including after-school enrichment, summer programs, and mentorship.”

Green said his organization hopes that these activities “will support youth in leaving the streets and building productive futures.”

Evanston organizations with programs for youth have formed an online discussion group called Lan40: Evanston Child and Adolescent Local Area Network.

Its website provides entrees to these organizations for individuals who wish to volunteer to help.

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$500K grant for anti-violence projects in Evanston
By: Charles Bartling
Published: Oct 1, 2012

It’s not official yet, but it appears that a three-year federal grant in the amount of $500,000 is headed to a group of youth-oriented organizations in Evanston to finance projects to deal with violence involving young people.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who represents Evanston in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Seth Green, executive director of the Youth Organizations Umbrella (YOU), made the tentative announcement at a special “public conversation” at the McGaw YMCA’s Children’s Center Auditorium Monday night.

About 200 persons filled the auditorium for the event, co-sponsored by the YMCA, YWCA Evanston/North Shore, YOU, the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, the Youth Job Center of Evanston, and Family Focus.

A panel consisting of parents, students, coaches, and youth advocates gave testimonials prompted by the shooting death last week of Dajae Coleman, a freshman at Evanston Township High School.

The panel, as well as members of the audience, expressed their feelings about the impact the shooting has had on their lives and productive ways that the community can work together to lessen the atmosphere of violence surrounding Evanston’s youth in the future.

But many of the programs suggested would require substantial funds for such activities as mentoring and job training.

As a member of the audience who identified himself as an Evanston business owner expressed it: “Just as the city looks at its roads and sewers—its infrastructure—so should we regard our young people as an important element of the infrastructure of our community.”

YOU Executive Director Seth Green, who moderated the discussion, said after the meeting that YOU had applied for the federal grant, from the Department of Housing and Human Services, as the lead agency on behalf of several groups who provide services to the youth of Evanston.

He said one of the primary objects of the grant would be youths aged 19 and above, many of whom are high school dropouts, who live in the community but have moved up from Chicago where they have not been recipients of services from the local school districts.

Rep. Schakowsky said that the funding, presumably released in Washington Friday, is earmarked primarily for “street outreach.”

Green urged his audience to participate in Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl’s community meeting on anti-violence initiatives Tuesday, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center located at 1655 Foster St.

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Residents walk, talk about creating peace in Evanston
By: Tanner Maxwell
Published: Sept 1, 2012

Margaret Nelson said she dreams of walking through Evanston to catch the night sky over Lake Michigan. The city's crime is the only thing between her and that scenic stroll, she said.

Nelson, a volunteer for the Youth Organization Umbrella, met Sunday with more than 100 other participants in the PeaceAbleCities Walk and Talk, a 2.5-mile march to promote violence-free communities.

"The idea of a peaceable city is a strong one for me," Nelson said, displaying a poster with an illustration of her dream.

The annual event focuses on how Evanston residents can decrease urban crime from a communal, rather than individual, perspective.

Although overall crime was reduced by less than 1 percent from 2010 to 2011, the "most significant reductions" were observed in violent crime, according to the Evanston Police Department's annual report.

Both aggravated batteries and assaults and reports of shots fired dropped by about 25 percent. The number of murders decreased from five to three, while the number of criminal sexual assaults ticked down from eight to five.

Despite the promising statistics, Walk and Talk participants discussed how they could further lower city crime.

Loyce Spells, chair of the PeaceAble Cities: Evanston board, said the goal of the event is to bring together residents from different backgrounds to find common ground on how to fight violence.

"Violence is learned,” he said. “There are other ways to solve conflict. A community cannot be free of conflict, but the question is how do you deal with it."

The walk began with speeches from organizers and supporters, including Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. Participants gathered at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation,  303 Dodge Ave., then traveled north to the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, 1655 Foster Ave.

Organizers encouraged participants to partner up as they walked north on Dodge Avenue. At predetermined points along the route, walkers switched partners to chat with new people. Volunteers distributed stickers for residents to show which ward they live in, hoping walkers could connect with others from different parts of the city.

Although similar problems exist all over the world, they are particularly present in and around Chicago, saidDebie Smith, a participant who lives in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood but attends at Evanston church.

Nelson said she lives between "good" and "bad" neighborhoods in the Fifth Ward and thinks both sides need to be involved in the same social causes.

"I love the idea of one big neighborhood," she said. "With the walk, you got to start somewhere."

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Y.O.U. Board Member Recognized for Community Leadership
By: Christine Kraly
Published: Sept 1, 2012

Linda McKenzie 's son Owen hated bike rides.

The 6-year-old would wail from his bike seat as McKenzie and her husband would ride from their Evanston home — usually eyeing the brightly colored park blocks away.

The playground would become a kind of ground zero to make Owen, who deals with significant special needs, including developmental delays and limited mobility and speech, more comfortable with the rides.

With each ride, they'd travel one more block, McKenzie said.

"That was our goal, if we could make it to that playground," the mother of four said.

They made it eventually, and Owen did what he couldn't do for years: He ran and swung on swings, all with his siblings.

McKenzie learned a couple years ago that this playground— their family's favorite playground — Noah's Playground for Everyone, had been created by lawyer David Cutter and his wife, Julie, after their son, who also faced physical and mental disabilities, died at 2½ years old.

"I burst into tears," McKenzie said. "This is why we were (meant) to get to the playground."

Free to be himself
Noah Cutter loved the sound of the DustBuster and that crackle when cellophane bunches. He couldn't speak, but he showed love through his cuddling and laughter over the vacuuming.

"He would giggle like you wouldn't believe," said his father, David Cutter, a partner in Troutman Sanders' insurance practice.

Cutter, a Massachusetts native, practiced as an associate at then-named Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw in Washington, D.C., when Noah was born on May 13, 2003, with several neurological abnormalities. As their son got older, he and his wife, a government policy analyst, learned that Noah would experience problems speaking, seeing and moving.
When they realized the enormity of his challenges, they decided that moving near Julie Cutter's family would provide them with greater support. The couple left the Washington home they recently renovated and moved to Evanston. They began educating themselves on how best to raise a child who faces physical and mental disabilities.

"Learning how to get yourself that help is a critical thing to learn," David said.

Some of life's simplest pleasures, like hearing a song, became a reason for familial rejoicing in the Cutter home. Noah took a particular liking to the song, "Free To Be You and Me" by Marlo Thomas and Friends.

But there weren't many places they could take their son and daughter, Ali, — who they adopted from China in 2004 when she was 11 months old — to interact and play together.

The Cutters knew caring for Noah would require patience and love; they came armed with both. They planned on building an addition to the back of their home and adding an elevator that would help transport Noah to other parts of the house.

The couple expected that Noah's life would be difficult. But despite his limitations, the young boy began displaying his personality and connecting with his loved ones.

"He was very loving," Julie said. "He knew people, he knew their voices."

But on Christmas Eve in 2005, Noah died in his sleep. Doctors determined no exact cause of his death. Despite his neurological challenges, he seemed healthy, David said.

"His death was completely unexpected," he said. "You're in a different state of shock."

A recipe for success
After Noah died, the Cutters worked through their grief, trying to focus it, and their memories, in a positive light.

Julie's sister-in-law suggested the family work with the city of Evanston on a playground. They wanted to honor Noah in part by creating a haven where he would have enjoyed being a child.

The couple met with city officials, including Stefanie Levine, the city's landscape architect in the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department.

"It's not really common to find private citizens who are going to go out and build something really special together," Levine said.

Working with a public agency on a community project "can be quite cumbersome," Levine said, and "they kind of just went with the flow."

Planners estimated the playground would cost $840,000 to construct. The Cutters set a goal of raising $400,000, with the city expected to supply the rest. And so began the Cutters' roles as project managers and fundraisers. They donated their own money and received support from family and friends.

Someone within David's firm — then Ross, Dixon & Bell — suggested selling a cookbook to help raise money, said Eileen Bower, a partner in Troutman Sanders' insurance practice. One of the firm's vendors, Document Technologies Inc., volunteered to print the spiral-bound, nearly 300-page book.

Attorneys and staff from throughout the firm contributed their favorite culinary expertise to the cause.

On page 133 of "Noah's Playground Palate-Pleasers," for example, one can learn how to make Impossibly Easy Southwestern Pie. Hundreds of other beloved dishes pepper the pages, including Gloria's Szechuan Chicken, Our Lulu's Fried Chicken, Mak's Amazing Fruit Pizza and even Donnie's Salmon Recipe — Cutter's own contribution.

The collection of dishes proved to be not just recipes. It would help celebrate a little boy's life and represent the support of an entire law firm in helping make this project happen.

Bower's son, Liam, drew photos of eggs, bacon and soup. The cookbook evolved into precisely what it aimed to do — raise money for a cause that could bond a community, within the firm and within Evanston.

"The lessons learned by children who play together as equals results in a community in which everyone is valued, develops fully, contributes and is loved … regardless of their abilities or disabilities," the book's dedication reads.

Creating the cookbook was a "way to bring together everyone at the firm and also bring our families together," Bower said.

It allowed David's work family — even those working in the firm's other national and international offices who did not know him — to support his family at home.

"They were very proud David was doing something," Julie said of his co-workers.

For Bower, it gave her a chance to help someone who not only became a good friend, but also a trusted adviser.

David, the chairman of Troutman Sanders' Chicago pro bono committee, earned his law degree in 1995 from the Catholic University of Americas Columbus School of Law. He spent five years as a commercial litigator before representing insurers.

He also spent four years representing policyholders which, Bower said, allows him "a unique expertise." He's able to give a well-rounded perspective, she said, upon which she often relies.

Bower described David as someone who works diligently to find an optimistic solution to a quandary. It seems fitting, then, that he recognizes how his son's playground helped sharpen his work as an attorney.

Countless hours spent on everything from raising money to deciding key, specific details of his son's playground also helped hone his legal skills, David said.

"You really learn to focus on the big things," he said. "That's crucial of what we do as lawyers."

Like building a house
Wheelchair-friendly ramps wind through the rubber-lined ground of Lawson Park, overlooking Lake Michigan.

Multiple sets of swings — adjustable, and large and small — stand near seated rocking toys, painted bright colors to assist children with visual challenges. An elevated sandbox lets children who use wheelchairs dig in and build.

A plaque describes the namesake of the park, also etched in stone in multicolor: Noah's Playground for Everyone.

It would take nearly two years of fundraising and detailed planning to dream up the haven of inclusive fun.

The Cutters and Levine enlisted the advice of experts specializing in children with special needs on what elements the playground should include. They sought input, too, from families in the community. They wanted the playground to be as inclusive as possible — from its creation, to the children and families who use it.

Julie likened the process to building a house, calling it a "labor of love." The Cutters and the city ensured equipment and the grounds became compliant with Americans With Disabilities Act regulations and beyond. They added Braille boards and open-sided picnic tables. After about two years of planning, the playground opened in 2008.
"This is a playground Noah would have needed," David said.

No doubt, he said, his son would have loved the swings.

Levine said Evanston officials remain mindful of residents with disabilities when planning community recreation programs and equipment.

"But what they did, we kind of took it a step further and enhanced it to a higher level," she said.

"We didn't want it to look like, 'This is a park for special needs children.'"

Providing that kind of seamless inclusivity proved chiefly important to Noah's parents.

"Your life can be enriched by knowing somebody who isn't like you," Julie said.

Noah spread that kind of message in his brief life, David said.

"He still managed to have a positive influence," he said.

Noah's legacy
In June, the doorbell at the Cutters' home rang. When Julie answered it, their 6-year-old neighbor, Brock Janicki, stared back at her and proudly exclaimed, "We went to your playground today."

Anne Trompeter figured her son visited the Cutters to play with Zach, their 5-year-old son, who they adopted from Ethiopia in 2007. She said she had no idea the nature of his sweet house call until she learned later.

"I was pleased and moved," Trompeter said. "I thought, this really got inside him in a good way. It totally came out of a heartfelt message."

The incident acts as an example of the thank-yous the Cutters received since their son's park opened four years ago. Every year, the family receives at least a couple of e-mails and letters detailing other children's joy from Noah's namesake.

"To hear the one or two kids who had a play experience," Julie said, "that's what it's about."

Trompeter had been taking Brock to the playground for a while, but on their latest trip — the day before he visited the Cutters — she chose to tell him more about the park's significance. She showed her son, who does not have any physical or mental disabilities, the plaque describing Noah and the park.

Through some tears, Trompeter said, she read her young boy the story of another whose life ended too soon. He asked why she was crying.

"I told him, 'I'm not crying for sadness,'" she said. "'I'm so happy we can remember him this way.'"

She pointed out swings and slides and reminded her son that just because he can climb up some equipment doesn't mean all little boys can.

"We've had a learning moment around it," she said.

The pair now often undertake a small, but significant, ritual during their park trips. They smooth the small bits of black gravel that may obstruct the plaque describing Noah's life. Trompeter said Brock eagerly embraces his task as mini-caretaker and brushes the debris from the words.

Though they didn't help build it, she said, "We can also be stewards of the park."

For Linda McKenzie, the park provides a "priceless" refuge where all of her children can play in one area.

"It's an extremely short list, what we can do together," she said. "It was great just to see my other kids, they always get excited to see when Owen can get something typical."

This summer, Time Out Chicago nominated the park in a poll with four others in or around Chicago as the area's best playground.

"The playground has been a big success, and our hope is it continues to be a destination for people," David said.

Morphing their initiative into Noah's Playground and Beyond, the Cutters said they hope to raise more money to add equipment and projects at their son's site as well as others throughout Evanston.

David, who served as a camp counselor in his youth, said he wants to spread his desire to support children's development well beyond the green of his son's playground.

"David's so inspirational," Bower, his law firm colleague, said, not only for showing strength after Noah's death, but also for doing what he could do "to help other children with special needs in their community."

In 2006, he and his wife began regularly participating in WTMX FM 101.9's Eric & Kathy's 36-Hour Radiothon, benefiting the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago (formerly Children's Memorial Hospital), where Noah received care.

Bower said she and other firm staffers supported David by participating in the most recent radio fundraiser.

"I knew their legacy before I knew them as people," said Seth Green, executive director at Evanston's Youth Organizations Umbrella (YOU). Green's 18-month-old daughter's favorite playground is Noah's.

"I just knew that it had fabulous and entertaining facilities for kids," Green said. "And then over time, I learned the story and was very inspired."

Green met David about a year ago when he took over as head of YOU, which aims to provide leadership and programs to support youth development. David recently joined the group's board of directors and already immersed himself in its mission, Green said.

He commended David for bringing an analytical mind and passion to the group, where he serves on both its capital and strategic planning committees.

Green called him "team-oriented," someone who learns as much information about the group's initiatives before weighing in with his own advice.

"He's an incredibly warm person and he's a great listener," Green said.

"His understanding of the preciousness of life and youth developing into healthy individuals is something I'm sure drives everything he does."

He said he expects David's contribution to Evanston's youth to reach far beyond the already significant impact of the park.

"The Evanston community sees it as their playground," Green said. "That's really important, because whenever we separate kids, they notice and it can be stigmatizing."

McKenzie said she appreciates the playground's ability to bond all children as well as its goal of treating all children equally.

Creating a park solely for children with disabilities, "just isolates them that much more," she said.

The playground helps children with disabilities be active members of their community, she said, which helps foster understanding and acceptance among other children and families.

She praised the Cutters for helping establish an environment of inclusiveness.

For Trompeter and Brock, the playground "has activated kind of an ongoing dialogue."

Addressing people with special needs can be a tricky subject, even for adults, she said.

"It's educational for me too. We've been learning together," Trompeter said.

The playground has helped start a conversation about not fearing, but rather, embracing people's differences.

"Everyone isn't born healthy," Trompeter said she told her son.

She said the message becomes even more important as Brock prepares for kindergarten.

Trompeter praised her neighbors for creating a place where such education and joy take place.

"I thought, those people are amazing, to have the resources and ability to make a real positive contribution out of it," she said.

"That they took a personal tragedy and turned it into something positive for the community is such an inspiration," Bower said.

David said he doesn't consider himself a particularly political person. But he said getting involved in YOU and creating Noah's Playground showed him the kind of positive influence grassroots efforts can have on a community.

"You can make a positive impact, one child at a time," David said.

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Teens launch a project to ‘paint Evanston beautiful’
By: Bob Seidenberg
Published: Aug 15, 2012

As one of the new school year’s three executive editors of The Evanstonian, Evanston Township High School’s student newspaper, Jessica Baum has a dandy story to pitch right off the bat.

Two students — one of them responding to anti-immigration messages that began appearing on viaducts last year, the other with a strong interest in public art — decided to explore creating murals as a way to convey their ideas.

They teamed up with other students, navigated their way through the tricky city approval process and helped produce a first-rate mural at Central Street and Green Bay Road that resonates with community values.

As one of the key players in the project, though, Baum has a minor obstacle to hurdle.

Editorial practice at the paper is such that, “We usually have a policy of not doing stuff when our staff members are in it.”

As would any conscientious editor, “I really have to figure out,’’ she said, “because I really want it in there.”

Baum conceived of a mural last summer in response to anti-immigration messages that appeared on the Central Street viaduct as well as other north Evanston viaducts.

“It was really awful. I knew it wasn’t what Evanston is,’’ she said. “We don’t believe in that kind of stuff.”

She shared her concerns with good friend Olivia Chandrasekhar, who has an interest in street art and the power of that medium to convey ideas.

“It’s kind of expression for the masses,’’ she said.

During the winter the two met with Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to talk about the idea and get suggestions for carrying out the proposal. They made contact with the Youth Organizations Umbrella, which has a student group at ETHS.

One of the YOU workshops involves students “in the arts and exploring what it means to live in Evanston,” said Mark Augustine, a YOU adviser, connecting well with the students’ proposal.

Baum said she and Chandrasekhar also coordinated their efforts with the city’s Public Arts Committee and Jeff Cory, who staffs the committee, winning approval for the mural design.

“They were really flexible with us and wanted to help us,” Baum said, “and did a lot.’’

An official with the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns and leases out the railroad property to Metra, also was receptive, with the railroad even making a contribution to the project.

The mural has “Evanston” written in big block letters and a blue train running through the middle.

Emeric Mazibuko, youth development specialist at YOU, said the two students purposefully didn’t delve into their reasons for doing the project when they first approached YOU.

“They didn’t want to force the mural to go into any direction,’’ he said.

Over time, though, as students learned more about the project, some recalling the anti-immigration messages, “that made the kids even more interested in working on it,’’ he said.

Taking a break from work on Friday to look at the YOU students’ progress, Baum noted, “There was something wrong on this very wall, and now you’re painting something beautiful that all Evanston residents can be proud of, on this same space,” she said.

Baum and Chandrasekhar are looking for more projects to do under their program, which now has a title “Paint Evanston Beautiful.”

Baum said the hope is to get “different points of view from all over Evanston,” with the goal of capturing some of the richness of her diverse community.

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Y.O.U. Camp Entrepreneurs Spot Trends
By: Mary Helt Gavin
Published: Aug 14, 2012

Last week TrendsetterZ.com beat out Vroom!, High Rollers, Dawg Waggin’ and Second City Teens as top entrepreneurs. In the final step in the entrepreneurship camp at Youth Organizations Umbrella, 20 high school students pitched their business concepts to a panel of experts and a willing audience in an evening that was part "Shark Tank" and part "American Idol."

Y.O.U.’s YES: Youth Entrepreneurship Summer Camp immersed the students in entrepreneurship. Victoria Krone, an intern at Y.O.U., developed the program for Y.O.U. based on a similar one developed by a friend at the University of Minnesota, said Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green.

The program was designed to help youth "think about their future and have them see what it takes to get there – success in high school, college completion," said Mr. Green. Along the way, the students learned many business skills.

Ms. Krone said she was "bowled over by the students and what they did in five weeks."

At the July 30 presentation, a panel of business experts asked questions and offered advice to the young entrepreneurs. Panel members’ questions elicited information about business plans, market research and the practicalities of the students’ first steps into the world of commerce.

Trending Now

TrendsetterZ.com was a fashion website offering the latest teen fashions. Alanna Williams, Kelsea Frazier, Shauntel Neal and Matthew Auston said they would find the latest fashions and, through partnerships with retailers, offer the clothing and accessories through the TrendsetterZ.com website. "Find trends, buy trends and set trends with TrendsetterZ.com" was their slogan and their promise. They said their market research showed "90 percent said they would go to our site and would buy clothes."

The business panel said they "loved the concept – you’ve identified the need." Their recommendation was to "get out of the retail business. Warehousing is a cost – just identify trends and have people click through your website."

Scooter Awareness

Scooters would be the new mode of transportation in Evanston and college areas of Chicago, according to the developers of Vroom! That business would rent scooters by the day, week or semester to students at Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola and University of Illinois at Chicago. A scooter, they said, is a good way "to impress someone on a first date." The group – Chris Coronel, Ben Moberly, Shaun Myles and Dixon Chan – also planned a "Scooter Awareness Day."

Response from the business panel was positive. "This is a great idea … [for] people in Evanston who don’t want to go far … It would be easy to bring it to multiple locations … You have a lot of people who could [rent] it for you: – e.g. hotels, Northwestern dorms."

The slogan for this group on the go is "Get rid of that boring old car – a great experience is waiting."

High Rollers on the West Side

High Rollers Imani Henry, Jonathon Connerly-Bey, Nikkole Wade and Tiaira Scott would like to see an indoor skating rink in the southwest corner space of Evanston Plaza that once housed a plant and craft shop. Their revenue would come from admissions, food, skate rentals and arcade games. They planned not only to make a profit but to "give some of the profits to Y.O.U." Remarks from the business panel included "Think through cost structure a little more;" "This is a community that would use it a lot;" and "Given the real estate marker, there could be great space available." Asked whether the City might give them a tax break, one of the group responded, "We would take that up with the mayor. She wanted a bowling alley there."

Dawg Waggin’ – Organic Fast Food Around Town

Dawg Waggin’, said owners/operators Kerrian Miller, Sam Carvajal, Ashley Parker Madete would offer organic fast food on a cart. The group identified food deserts in Evanston, notably Evanston Township High School and "a few other places, mostly in south Evanston." Food on the wagon would be "excellent and value-priced," they said. The group would like to offer food at ETHS, both at the school itself and at athletic events where food is not now sold – any sport except basketball and football, they said. But ETHS would be just the first stop on an Evanston-wide tour for this food cart. "We hope to establish ourselves as a local brand," they said. Dawg Waggin’ would donate 5 percent of their profits to the ETHS Boosters Club.

"It’s a great idea to have a mobile food cart" and "Kids will love the food option" panel members responded.

Second City Teens: "To Keep Other Teens Informed"

Zoe Johannsen, Chelcy Coronel, Carla Orduno and Denzel Blaies comprised "the most adamant groups to see that teens don’t get bored" said Ms. Krone. These teens would post information and reviews about events throughout the Chicago area to alert other teens know what’s happening. Their market research, they said, showed a "potential of 250,000 teens who would come to the website." They would hire other ETHS students to write comments or reviews. "It will give teens a chance to write for the web, a chance to have a job," they said. Their mission statement was "By teens, for teens – to keep other teens informed." Their slogan was "Find fun, have fun – Second City Teens."

"We don’t want adults," they said straight-faced to the business panel, whose members responded only to the proposal.

To the question, "Have you thought about who would advertise?" they responded, "Ticketmaster and Stubhub."

The panel seemed as impressed by the teens themselves as by their proposal. One member said, "What’s going to set it apart is going to be content – not aggregating but your voice, your writing."

After the presentations, Mr. Green gave $203 in Monopoly money to each of the approximately 100 audience members and asked them to "invest" in one of the projects. TrendsetterZ.com led the others in capturing erstwhile venture capital.


"We far exceeded our expectations," Mr. Green told the RoundTable. "The business panel shows how invested this community is." Thirty-five business professionals volunteered their time over the course of the camp, he said. "What we found is that people really love the idea of sharing their skills. … From our perspective, this has been the greatest volunteer opportunity we have seen.

"We wanted to get kids sparked about their future." Even though a couple of the business concepts from the July 30 presentation are still moving forward, he said, "Our goal was kids. One purpose of the July 30 presentation was "to have kids see how valuable they are and [see] their importance to this community. They should be the center of attention. They can and do wondering things."

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Youth entrepreneur teams get to 'YES!'
By: Bill Smith
Published: Aug 1, 2012

Members of the new Youth Entrepreneurship Summer camp program tested their ideas Tuesday evening before 150 supporters of the camp's sponsor Youth Organization Umbrella at the John Evans alumni center at Northwestern University.

The YES! camp immersed high school students in entrepreneurship -- showing them what it takes to start their own business.

Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green says they also gained critical leadership skills that will enable them to succeed in college and in their careers.

Presenting in front of a mock investor panel the youngsters presented plans that included creating a roller skating rink in west Evanston, developing a website for teens describing local activities, starting a scooter rental business in Evanston, launching a trend-setter website involving social media and fashion and operating a health-focused food truck for kids and families.

After questions from a mock investor panel that included Jeffrey Epstein, executive director of the Chicago Portfolio School and director of  Digital Bootcamp; Anthony Fox, chief financial officer, fund control, for Magnetar Capital;  Omar H. Khalil, director of strategy for Baxter Healthcare; Neal H. Levin, partner in Freeborn & Peters LLP; Jonathan Seed, managing director of Royal Bank of Scotland, and Alice Tybout, the Harold T. Martin professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, audience members got to vote with Monopoly money for the business plans that most excited them.

Green says all the youngstersin the program were commended for their business ideas and leadership abilities and the competition was extremely close, but ultimately the audience put the most play money behind the TrendSetterZ.com website.·       

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ETHS School Improvement Team Focuses on New Parents, Career Planning and Peer Jury
By: Jennie Berkson
Published: June 20, 2012

The recommendations of the School Improvement Team (SIT) to the Evanston Township High School administration focused on families of incoming students, student post-high school plans and discipline of current students.

"We have historically had amazing results from our School Improvement Team," remarked Superintendent Eric Witherspoon at the Board meeting on Monday, June 11. "Each year they buckle down and consider recommendations that serve the school best."

The recommendations, which are presented annually to the District 202 School Board, are advisory in nature and are developed by a group of participants who represent a wide range of roles in the ETHS and Evanston community. Board members Gretchen Livingston and Rachel Hayman, who served on the committee, both commented, though, that there could be a newer and more varied group of participants, especially among parents and community members.

"Many of the faces have been there before," said Ms. Livingston.

The committee made a total of eight recommendations, but three were the most popular, said Dr. Peter Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who made the presentation to the Board. Co-chairs Leslie Petterson, ETHS parent, and Crystal Steidley, special education teacher, were not able to attend the presentation.

Number one on the SIT’s list was a recommendation to "ensure that all students across grade levels and curriculum levels are made aware of and have the opportunity to benefit from career exploration experiences available at ETHS to learn about potential career options through deliberate, comprehensive communication, particularly taking advantage of direct teacher-to-student classroom contact."

The recommendation further suggested that career exploration experiences include courses, career programs, speakers, and field trips coordinated through the ETHS College and Career Center. The committee also recommended that emphasis "be placed on embedding career pathway education and career readiness skills in academic core courses across all grade levels."

Ms. Livingston commented that there was a group involved in planning Evanston’s 150th anniversary celebration which was exploring career and technical training in the community and that the District should be cognizant of that effort.

Second on the list was "a parent-to-parent mentoring program, developed and facilitated by parents for parents, that engages parents as partners and experts on the barriers and challenges of moving into 9th grade."

Board member Deborah Graham asked how this proposal would be different than the ETHS Parent Ambassador program already in place. According to the District website, "Parent Ambassadors are parents, guardians or adult family members of ETHS students who help foster connections and build partnerships with the high school by participating in activities and events that make the ETHS experience a positive one for our families."

Dr. Bavis acknowledged that the Parent Ambassadors were already "doing a lot of the work" associated with the suggestions in this new program, but that the SIT approach sought to reach out to "families that traditionally feel disconnected … more of a one-on-one mentoring program." He cited the community schools program sponsored by the Youth Organization Umbrella (YOU) currently in operation at Nichols and Chute Middle Schools as an example.

The third priority for SIT was to establish consistent guidelines for Peer Jury, a form of restorative justice used at ETHS. According to the Peer Jury brochure published by the District, the Peer Jury "provide(s) a positive outlet in which students can resolve school related conflicts with the assistance of their peers and avoid a possible suspension."

According to the SIT recommendation, "students report that there is varied usage of peer jury among the deans." Accordingly, the proposal suggests that "all deans … use the same criteria for offering peer jury, so students and parents know what to expect in response to a behavioral infraction." In addition to advocating for consistent guidelines, the SIT recommendation also suggested a vigorous use of alternatives to suspension for most student infractions and that "a checklist should be established that determines that a suspension is, in fact, the only appropriate response to a given violation/situation."

Board member Jonathan Baum commented that SIT worked very hard and was very dedicated. "Can we let them know what happened to their recommendations from the previous year?"

Dr. Witherspoon said Alicia Hart, assistant director of student support and equity, maintains a "grid" that shows what happens with SIT recommendations and shares that information with the committee.

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Evanston church raises thousands for charity one penny at a time
By: Sammy Caiola
Published: May 6, 2012

Pennies add up.

That’s what First United Methodist Church has learned over the past three years, during which it has collected 1,470,000 pennies — $14,700 — for six different organizations.

Most of the money collected by the church’s Pennies for Poverty program has already been donated: $10,000 to a project in Ghana and $1,000 each to four local organizations. One other donation is in the works, and the organization hopes to keep raking in the pennies indefinitely.

First United Methodist Church, 516 Church St., has been collecting small change from congregation members for the past two years. Its first effort involved spending more than a year collecting 1 million pennies, or $10,000, for the Mo-Dega Agricultural Project in Ghana, said Jim Young, chair of a committee at the church’s Mission & Outreach Committee. The donation helped farmers buy seed and equipment and coincided with the congregation’s biennial service trip to Ghana.

After the success of the million-penny donation, the committee decided to shift its efforts toward alleviating local poverty. The congregation draws many of its members from Evanston and Chicago. Young said organizations in these areas are experiencing a growing need for financial aid as poverty levels rise.

The committee takes suggestions for beneficiaries from congregation members, many of whom are involved in other charity organizations. So far, Pennies for Poverty has donated $1,000 each to Connections for the Homeless, Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association (ESCCA), the Youth Job Center and Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc. Young said raising that sum can take anywhere from four to eight months.

“Members of the congregation appreciate and value the work the organizations are doing,” he said. “They like the idea of supporting the local community in a way that’s tangible. It’s something that’s really worthwhile.”

Pennies for Poverty is currently raising money for The Night Ministry, a Chicago-based outreach program for at-risk adults and youth. In the last two months, it has collected 70,000 pennies for The Night Ministry. Bob Jordan, a member of First United Methodist Church who was on the board of directors for The Night Ministry, is scheduled to hold a discussion at the church this Sunday to talk about the organization’s efforts.

Pennies for Poverty also provides volunteers, Young said. After the congregation donated $1,000 to ESCCA last year, they sent six to eight volunteers to help the staff sort clothing for children in need.

Most of the money from Pennies for Poverty went toward buying new shoes, undergarments and jeans for K-8 students enrolled in Evanston schools, said Enid Shapiro, co-president of ESCCA.

“We were just really thrilled to be a recipient,” she said. “It was a wonderful program and it really helped us. $1,000 is a lot for a very grassroots, very local organization. It’s quite a boost for us.”

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Evanston Township High School Celebrates Volunteers
Published: May 3, 2012

Evanston community members joined the City of Evanston, Evanston Township High School (ETHS), the Evanston Community Foundation, and Northwestern University (NU) to celebrate outstanding volunteers on April 10. Local organizations and agencies nominated individuals to be recognized at the annual Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet at NU’s Norris Center.

The keynote speaker for the evening was ETHS senior Shamir Villeda. A finalist for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Villeda shared his compelling story of coming to the United States from Guatemala in 2006. His journey is documented in a video produced by Immigrant Connect (http://www.immigrantconnect.org/2010/06/09/the-caged-bird-thrives-jorges-flight-from-guatemala/). At the time, an alias of “Jorge” was used to protect Shamir’s identity after he fled his country and his parents were killed by a Guatemalan gang.

Villeda has been a student at ETHS since 2008 when he moved to the Evanston home of his foster parents, Stephanie Russell and Alan Lindquist. He has volunteered with organizations such as Soup at Six and Best Buddies. This fall, Villeda will be an Evans Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the College of Business.

Among this year’s Outstanding Volunteer honorees at the Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet were ETHS sophomores Tyler Dixon and Natalie Jacobson. Dixon is a committed volunteer and Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.). Last summer she volunteered five days a week in an intensive position that involved facilitating group sessions – a position not previously facilitated by high school students. Jacobson volunteers consistently with various soup kitchens in the Evanston area, planning and attending orientations, events, and more. She is also a member of various student groups at ETHS, including Green Team.

The program also recognized this year’s nominees for Outstanding Volunteer, which included ETHS students Lydia Collins, Ramina Khuri, Isabel Sturla, Graig Tertulien, and ETHS staff member Montell Wilburn. Awards were presented by Burgwell Howard, Northwestern University’s dean of students; Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of ETHS District 202; and Sara Schastok, president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation.

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Evanston Y.O.U. slated to launch entrepreneurship program
By: Amanda Gilbert
Published: May 4, 2012

Evanston’s Youth Organizations Umbrella will recruit at least 20 local business professionals to teach in their Youth Entrepreneurs Summer Program. 
Seth Green, Y.O.U. executive director, said the new YES! program will focus on helping young people, mainly high school students, learn how to become entrepreneurs. They will learn about business and leadership and how to apply those skills to future jobs. 

Y.O.U. reached out to local business professionals who were willing to share their work experiences, Green added. 

“We have a lot of really cool business people from Evanston,” Green said. “We have someone who invented a new way to frame photos, someone who started a pet spa company and someone who launched a global music television station.”

Green said the business leaders can teach students about the process of inventing and patenting products as well as inspire them to become future innovators. 
“YES! will encourage students to commit to key elements, such as college and internships, that will spark their interest in this business future,” he said. 

The program, which will begin in June, is among the many educational programs Y.O.U. organizes, said Marianne Moberly, Y.O.U.’s development director. She said the organization will serve more than 700 youths in Evanston this year. 

“We have a positive impact on a lot of young people in Evanston,” Moberly said. “We have a number of people with entrepreneur backgrounds who will serve as storytellers this summer. I call them storytellers because they share stories about how they’ve become who they are.”

Janese Johnson, Y.O.U.’s youth development specialist, said during the school year, the organization focuses on providing after-school care and academic tutoring. During the summer, it offers the program as a summer camp that prepares students for the coming school year.

“I love watching the kids grow and seeing them want to be a part of the group,” Johnson said. “I love when they have that ‘a-ha’ moment.”

Green said he hopes the summer program will give the students a vision and help them achieve it.

“We are thrilled to be a part of a program that could cause a transformation for the kids,” Green said. 

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Camp aims to inspire future Evanston entrepreneurs
By: Karen Berkowitz
Published: April 25, 2012

Some Evanston teens will have a chance this summer to witness entrepreneurs in action and develop a business concept of their own to pitch to a mock panel of investors.

The Youth Organizations Umbrella is launching a summer program to provide 20 teens insight into starting and running a business.

Participants in the five-week program will even receive a $25 Visa gift card for each week of perfect attendance, and an additional gift card upon successful completion of the program. How cool is that?

“The gift card is a way to reinforce the idea that this is like a job,” said Seth Green, YOU’s executive director .

The sampling of businesses will include a pet spa and a pizza parlor, fun concepts that are easy to relate to, but follow the same principles as any other business.

“Whether you are running a pet spa or an accounting shop, you have to do a profit-and-loss statement. You have to think about, ‘What value am I offering?’” said Green. “We are trying to start with some of the types of businesses that kids may gravitate towards.”

The YES! Camp, which is free to participants, will run from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. from June 18 to July 19. The afternoon camp will meet at Evanston Township High School Monday through Thursday, the days when summer school is in session. On Fridays, participants will take field trips to visit area businesses. “The goal is that on Fridays, they will actually be going out, shadowing and seeing different workplaces firsthand,” said Green.

Participation in the camp is open to all incoming ninth through 12th grade students. Special preference will be given to low-income and minority students.

A curriculum has been provided by the Junior Entrepreneurs of Minnesota program from faculty at the University of Minnesota. A grant from the Illinois State Board of Education is providing most of the program’s funding. Funds from an anonymous donor are being used to provide the gift card incentives.

Two information nights are planned for students and/or parents from 6:30 to 8 p.m. May 1 and the following Tuesday, May 8, in Room W201 at Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave., Evanston. Dinner will be provided. Applications to participate are due on or before May 14. The forms are available at yeseths.org.


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Camp Offered for Young Evanston Entrepreneurs
By: Bill Smith
Published: April 18, 2012

High School students in Evanston will have the chance to learn about running their own businesses in a new program this summer sponsored by Youth Organization Umbrella.

YOU's executive director, Seth Green, says the program seeks to spark youngsters' imagination about their future "by having them learn about various career pathways in an educational setting and then having coaches help them think about their own long-term aspirations."

The free Youth Entrepreneurship Summer, or YES! Camp, program, will run from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. every weekday from June 18 through July 19.

Information sessions for students and parents about the program will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on May 1 and 8 in Room W201 at Evanston Township High School, with a free dinner provided.

Program applications are due by May 14 and are available online.

Green says there's a lot of evidence that such career planning exposure is a highly effective tool for improving academic and career outcomes for low-income youths.

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ETHS Students are Celebrated Among Community Volunteers
By: Evanston Township High School
Published: April 16, 2012

Evanston community members joined the City of Evanston, Evanston Township High School (ETHS), the Evanston Community Foundation, and Northwestern University (NU) to celebrate outstanding volunteers on April 10, 2012. Local organizations and agencies nominated individuals to be recognized at the annual Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet at NU’s Norris Center.
The keynote speaker for the evening was ETHS senior Shamir Villeda. A finalist for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, Villeda shared his compelling story of coming to the United States from Guatemala in 2006. His journey is documented in a video produced by Immigrant Connect (http://www.immigrantconnect.org/2010/06/09/the-caged-bird-thrives-jorges-flight-from-guatemala/). At the time, an alias of "Jorge" was used to protect Shamir’s identity after he fled his country and his parents were killed by a Guatemalan gang.
Villeda has been a student at ETHS since 2008 when he moved to the Evanston home of his foster parents, Stephanie Russell and Alan Lindquist. He has volunteered with organizations such as Soup at Six and Best Buddies. "This has become much more than just a volunteer job; these friends have become like family to me," he says of his volunteer work at ETHS. "I’ve learned from volunteering that when you give of yourself, you get so much in return." This fall, Villeda will be an Evans Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the College of Business.
Among this year’s Outstanding Volunteer honorees at the Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet were ETHS sophomores Tyler Dixon and Natalie Jacobson. Dixon is a committed volunteer and Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.). Last summer she volunteered five days a week in an intensive position that involved facilitating group sessions – a position not previously facilitated by high school students. Jacobson volunteers consistently with various soup kitchens in the Evanston area, planning and attending orientations, events, and more. She is also a member of various student groups at ETHS, including Green Team.
The program also recognized this year’s nominees for Outstanding Volunteer, which included ETHS students Lydia CollinsRamina KhuriIsabel SturlaGraig Tertulien, and ETHS staff member Montell Wilburn. Awards were presented by Burgwell Howard, Northwestern University’s dean of students; Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of ETHS District 202; and Sara Schastok, president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation.

ETHS senior Shamir Villeda (center) gave the keynote speech at the April 10th Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet. He is joined by his foster parents, Alan Lindquist (left) and Stephanie Russell. (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University Community Service Office)

ETHS District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon (far left) and ETHS Community Service Coordinator Mary Collins (far right) congratulated ETHS students honored at the annual Evanston Volunteer Recognition Banquet. Pictured (2nd from left to right) are Outstanding Volunteer honorees Tyler Dixon and Natalie Jacobson and nominees Lydia Collins, Sammi Warner, and Isabel Sturla. (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University Community Service Office)

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Reception Honors Evanston Community Volunteers
By: Evanston Now
Published:[nbsp]April 11, 2012

Eleven Evanston community volunteers were honored Tuesday night at a reception at Northwestern University.

It's the seventh year for the event, which is sponsored by the university, the city, Evanston Township High School and the Evanston Community Foundation.

Guests were treated to performances by the ETHS Jazz band Handsome Salamander and NU  a capella groups The X-Factors and The Treblemakers and a keynote address by ETHS student Shamir Villeda who spoke of how volunteerism has positively affected his life as an immigrant to the United States.

The high-school-age volunteers honored were:

Hannah Cusick, who has volunteered at Evanston School Children’s Clothing Association for five years. A top student, leader, athlete, and more, Hannah has consistently taken time out of her busy schedule to help children get needed school clothes they might not otherwise have access to. She has risen to the rank of Assistant Supervisor at ESCCA, a job previously held only be adults. Hannah is a senior at St. Scholastica Academy.

Tyler Dixon, who volunteers at Youth Organizations Umbrella. Last summer she volunteered five days a week in an intensive position that involved facilitating group sessions—a position not previously facilitated by high school students. Tyler has continued to volunteer, organize, and lead within her school this year, even recruiting some of her peers from ETHS to work alongside her at YOU.

Natalie Jacobson, who volunteers with  soup kitchens in the Evanston area, planning and attending orientations, events, and more. A student at ETHS, Natalie is also a member of student groups, including Green Team, a group that seeks to make the school more environmentally friendly. She plans initiatives for Green Team, including one to eliminate Styrofoam trays in the school lunchroom.

Community volunteers honored were:

Lynn Hyndman, a teacher at Dawes Elementary school, where she has worked tirelessly to ensure that the school garden flourishes. She spends hours tending the garden and makes sure that each student spends time learning to care for the plants. She also seen that all extra produce grown in the garden is donated to homeless shelters. Lynn has been instrumental in the campaign to put gardens in schools across Evanston, and is on the Keep Evanston Beautiful steering committee for Schools are Gardening in Evanston.

Marcia Mahoney is the director of the Evanston Public Library Friends program “The Mighty Twig,” which promotes literacy and love of learning among south Evanston residents. Marcia facilitates events, curates the collection, and organizes volunteers and donations, and more.

Julie Neely has worked with Senior Connections for more than two years, taking on the challenge of visiting a woman who was, when Julie started volunteering, going through a very rough time in her life. Julie visits weekly, and her efforts have helped the woman she works with get access to the resources that she needs and stay out of assisted living. Julie has also contributed her graphic design skills to Senior Connections, enabling them to reach out to the community more effectively.

Alex Piper volunteers at Mary Lou’s place, a domestic violence shelter operated by the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. She teaches the women living there how to buy and cook healthy food on a limited budget. She has also started a garden where the women in her classes grow vegetables, solicited donations of cooking supplies from Target, and completed an extensive domestic violence training to help her understand the women she works with better.

Ralph Starenko is a member of Interfaith Action of Evanston, where he is has served on the board since its inception in 2006. He has served many different roles, volunteering in the soup kitchen and at the warming and hospitality centers. Willing and able to step in wherever he is needed, Ralph also volunteers at St. Paul Lutheran Church, where he is a member.

Northwestern University volunteers honored were:

Caroline Linden, who volunteers at LIFT Evanston, where she is a student director. She encourages other students and student groups to work with LIFT, and mentors the less experienced LIFT volunteers. LIFT seeks to combat poverty on a case-by-case basis, and Caroline has spent more than 700 hours with more than 200 clients to achieve this end.

Savan Patel, who is one of the community outreach chairs for Northwestern Community Development Corps. He has improved communication between NCDC volunteer sites and the University. Savan is also the vice president of programming for Phi Delta Epsilon, an international medical fraternity, organizing various volunteer opportunities for members.

La Donna Smith, a volunteer at LIFT Evanston, where she is a student director. La Donna works with members of the Evanston community, helping them with job placement, housing, public benefits, healthcare, childcare, legal assistance, and more.

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Gov. Quinn Proposes Raising Mandatory Attendance Age in High Schools
By: Susan Du
Published:[nbsp]March 1, 2012

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is urging state lawmakers to increase the "dropout age" for high school students from 17 to 18 in hopes such a policy would improve graduation rates. However, local school officials and educators are skeptical about the plan's ability to turn at-risk youth into better students.

Jonathan Baum, District 202school board member, said although dropping out is not a huge concern for Evanston Township High School with its over 90 percent graduation rate, he would like to see the district graduate all of its high school students. He said he believes more could be done to that end, but he is uncertain raising the dropout age is the perfect option.

"I'm somewhat skeptical about that because I'm concerned about the total educational environment," Baum said. "What is the impact on the school environment as a whole of having more students there who don't want to be there? What is the impact educationally for all of the other students in the school? I just think that's one of the issues that I don't think has been thought through."

President Barack Obama similarly advised that every state keep students enrolled in school until at least age 18 during his Jan. 24 State of the Union address, emphasizing the importance of a high school diploma.

However, Northwestern Prof. Jelani Mandara expressed doubts that high school graduation by itself could make a significant difference in students' lives. The human development and social policy professor said the path to success for many young people can be complicated —  some may have aspirations for higher education, but others may find alternative ways to be productive members of society.

"I think (the law) needs to be connected to work," Mandara said. "If you do drop out at 17, that's fine if you're gainfully employed. Other than that, you need to be in school. And if you're truant, you have to go to a school at the juvenile hall. I don't know — that's a touchy one. But certainly hanging out on the corners shouldn't be an option. They could be going to job-training programs or other apprenticeships that aren't necessarily connected to the high school. I think that's completely fine."

Another area of concern educators have about Quinn's proposal is how it will impact truancy rates. Currently, Illinois school code stipulates that chronic truants may suffer legal consequences in addition to disciplinary action enacted by their respective schools, including orders to appear in juvenile court as well as fines and jail time for their parents.

"Certainly it will increase the truancy rates, so that would be one potential negative," Mandara said. "That's a given. I think they understand that, the policymakers."

Although several local officials agree high schools should make the utmost effort in achieving a 100 percent graduation rate, they expressed concerns over how Quinn's proposal may be executed without additional state funds for supporting other educational initiatives geared toward improving students' learning experiences.

Seth Green, executive director of Evanston-based Youth Organizations Umbrella, a local youth advocacy agency, said although his organization is neutral on Quinn's proposal, he believes schools should prioritize keeping students enthusiastic about their education.

He said the "number one reason students drop out of school is that they don't feel connected to their schools, to their community and in many cases to their own dreams and aspirations," adding it is only through special attention that at-risk students can be made to value learning.

"I think the biggest question is how can we help kids in connecting to school and succeeding in school," Green said. "And I think we really need to support them in their lives in order to succeed in that, so for me, it's not that I am either for or against Gov. Quinn's proposal, but I think there are other measures that are even more important. We need more support for at-risk youth who are dropping out, and those supports should be holistic — really supporting them socially and emotionally as well as academically."

Y.O.U. recently relaunched its high school after-school service as the "CONNECT Program," which provides one-on-one academic support to registered ETHS students, according to the agency's website. Through CONNECT, Y.O.U. staff instruct students in building study skills, creating daily homework plans and observing study time. Each year, the organization serves over 600 youth, helping 96 percent increase their school attendance, according to an informational flier provided by Y.O.U.


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Evanston March Celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
By: Rebecca Schechner
Published: January 16, 2012

Community leaders and Evanston students celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday at the annual Diverse Evanston Walks United event, which included dance, rap and singing performances as well as guest speakers and a visit from Evanston mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

"We really see this as an opportunity to make sure that even though Dr. King tragically passed, his life goes on in all of us," said Seth Green, executive director of Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., a co-sponsor of DEWU.

Students at Evanston Township High School originated the concept for the youth-driven program, which honors King and celebrates peace and diversity in the Evanston community. DEWU, a six-year-old event, took place at the Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Ave.

The YWCA Evanston/North Shore and the McGaw YMCA also helped put on the complimentary celebration, which featured speeches by U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. Students from ETHS, Washington and Oakton elementary schools, and Chute and Nichols middle schools put on musical performances.

Green, addressing the audience, commended the respect Evanston students show toward one another, regardless of race, sexual orientation and ethnic background.

"I think it's a cool opportunity for some of the kids to step outside of their shells," said SESP senior Rachel Bhagwat, a Y.O.U. work-study student. "There are a lot of really good messages in the performances, and I think it's important that we do something to honor MLK Day."

Chauncey Martinez, an ETHS junior, participated in the program for the fourth time.

"I listen to a lot of Dr. King's and Malcolm X's speeches, and I go and talk to kids at the elementary and middle schools to see how they feel about things," Martinez said. "I get their perspectives on the speeches and I sort of use that to motivate myself to write down what I personally feel."

Martinez gave original spoken word and rap performances in hope the adults in the audience would be able to understand a young person's viewpoint on community issues.

"I want to get across to the audience that they should listen more to what the kids have to say," Martinez said. "Talk with them instead of talking at them, get the perspectives of the kids and see how they feel about life and certain situations."

Tisdahl stopped by the DEWU event, one of several celebrations she planned to attend Monday.

"I hope that the kids take away the idea that Martin Luther King was a fabulous American and someone to learn about and study," Tisdahl said. "His work is very important to all of us and I hope they realize that today is incredibly important to their parents, their teachers, their community."

In her speech, Schakowsky said Martin Luther King, Jr. Day cannot be easily compared to other national holidays.

"The fact that we are celebrating this as a national holiday has demanded that the people around this country focus on the moral vision of Dr. Martin Luther King," Schakowsky said. "Lots of holidays come and go in our country, but I think few honorees get the kind of attention on their holiday as does Martin Luther King."

Schakowsky also stressed how important it is for the youth of Evanston to realize the impact they can make in their community.

"We want to encourage young people like our dancers, like our rappers ­— all the children that attend our schools — to have the hope for change," she said.

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Mentors Make Time to Just Hang Out 
By: Karen Berkowitz
Published: January 3, 2012

Jenal Zak, 29, and Christopher Morris, 12, have established an easygoing rapport since the two started meeting weekly through the Youth Organizations Umbrella’s mentoring program.

“We talk about what happened during the day, and if I’m going on any field trips,” said Christopher, a seventh-grader at Chute Middle School. He fondly recalled the times they baked cupcakes (“they were delicious”) and made a pepperoni pizza almost from scratch, using ready-made dough to fit the baking project into their hour-long visit.

“Cooking is a nice bonding time for us,” said Zak, an Evanston resident of four years who was looking for a way to volunteer in the community. “I have noticed Chris really opens up when there is a little bit of a distraction. It isn’t just me looking directly into his eyes, saying, ‘Tell me about your day.’ ”

Each Wednesday during the school year, Zak starts her day early as a commercial lender for Comerica Bank in Oak Brook so she can leave early and meet up with Christopher at Chute Middle School at 5 p.m., just as he is finishing YOU’s after-school program.

Mentor-mentee pairs

About 30 mentor-mentee pairs meet regularly through the program, which is funded by a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The youths range from 11 to 18 years of age, and the sessions typically take place at Chute or Nichols middle schools and Evanston Township High School.

When the number of mentor-mentee pairs dwindled to a handful last fall, YOU ran a “40 mentors in 40 days” campaign that brought in a new wave of volunteers. The organization is still recruiting new mentors.

As part of the match process, both volunteers and prospective mentees are asked about their interests. The interviewer also tries to get a sense of their personalities to ensure a good fit.

“We try to match them so they have enough similar interests to create a relationship,” said Santrice Martin, volunteer coordinator with the Mentor YOUth program. “We also want to make sure they have enough differences so they learn from each other.”

Christopher said he was asked if he preferred a male or female mentor. “I said, ‘Either one; I don’t care,’” recalled Christopher, casting a wide grin in Zak’s direction that showed he’s quite pleased with how it all worked out.

When the two met up on Dec. 21, Christopher had some math homework to complete. So the two spent time figuring out a formula for calculating the number of calories in certain quantities of trail mix, or the amount of trail mix one would eat if consuming 1,000 calories.

Setting goals

D’Starr Owens, 13, and his mentor, Rachel Rigdon, have worked on goals. When Owens mentioned that he needed to bring his grades up, the two discussed specific things he could do to improve his grades, such as turning in homework and asking teachers or other adults for help.

“He came up with those all on his own,” said Rigdon, 24, a doctoral student at Northwestern University. Given the short, three-week timetable, the two decided to focus on homework completion. The challenge proved so successful, the two celebrated with take-out food from Chicken Shack.

Both Rigdon and D’Starr wrote on their mentor and mentee applications that they like to cook. They’ve made chicken tacos and ground-beef burritos.

“He actually went home and made the tacos for his mom,” said Rigdon. “It was really nice he could help her with dinner one night,” said Rigdon, noting that mom is juggling both work and school.

Christopher wasn’t always able to make the mentoring sessions last year, but Zak didn’t give up so easily.

“Jenal was available for him, whether he was available or not,” said Martin, of the consistency that is all the more important under such circumstances. “We could use a lot more Jenals.”

Said Zak, “I kind of went into it with the attitude, I am going to show him that somebody cares about him whether he hates me or loves me. I am going to ask him about his day, about how school is going.”

Zak marvels at the changes she’s seen, particularly this school year. She doesn’t take any personal credit. Rather, she believes a now-stable home situation has made the difference.

“It is like somebody turned a light on in him. He is much more happy and much more loving,” she said of Christopher. “Our relationship has come a long way.”

If you're interested in becoming a mentor, we'd love to hear from you! Please contact Santrice at 847.866.1201 x330 or at Santrice.RussellMartin@youevanston.org

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Live United, a New Strong Focus On Children's Education and Health
Published: September 19, 2011

Three Evanston agencies that serve infants, toddlers and pre-teens will share more than $300,000 in United Way funds to continue their work to support at-risk children and their families on the road to success. Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, Youth Organizations Umbrella and Childcare Network of Evanston received an aggregate of $355,000 from the North Shore United Way as part of it its Live United initiative.

Jessica Vlahogiannis, program manager at North Shore United Way, said the Live United program will be a 10-year, three-pronged focus on education, health and income. The Oct. 4 rollout in Evanston emphasized the first of these, education, to which North Shore United Way is committing an aggregate of $450,000 in Evanston and Highwood.

Two groups of children will be the targets of programs funded through Live United – middle-schoolers and children from birth to age 5, said Ms. Vlahogiannis. The early childhood focus is to help ensure that children are ready to learn when they reach kindergarten, and the middle-school focus is on preparing students to learn in high school and to graduate, she said.

State Representative Robyn Gabel said the Live United program is "so important. Brain development in children is critical from the age of 6 months. It’s really important to get their brains cooking," she added.

This is the second meeting for the United Way Live United Mr. Bobkiewicz has hosted in the past few months. He told the RoundTable he pays for the coffee and donuts "because I think that is my job [as a resident of Evanston]. His job as City Manager, he says, is to promote Evanston agencies with United Way. "I’m glad that United Way is focusing on Evanston, and I want to make sure that Evanston organizations get some benefit from these funds. ... If organizations can receive funding from United Way, that takes pressure off the City."


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Evanston Police on High Alert After Summer Flash Mobs
By: Julianna Nunez
Published: September 19, 2011

The words "flash mobs" often inspire images of spontaneous theater performances and people dancing in the streets. But flash mobs took on a more sinister image when groups of teenagers mobbed stores and stole items from Evanston convenience stores this summer.

The rash of criminal mischief has motivated the Evanston Police Department to adopt an "aggressive and proactive approach" to combatting the street robberies, according to an EPD news release earlier this month.

Three flash mob incidents occurred in two Evanston locations this summer. The 7-Eleven store at 847 Dodge Ave. was mobbed twice, once on July 15 and less than two days later on July 17. A third incident occurred at the Mobil Gas Station Food Mart at 1950 Green Bay Road on July 16, according to a news release from EPD Cmdr. Jay Parrott.

The flash mobs typically stole from displays of soft drinks and candy, according to the news release. Eventually, 14 juveniles were arrested on evidence extracted from the stores' surveillance systems.

All of the arrested are Evanston residents, but Parrott could not confirm nor deny whether the suspects were students at Evanston Township High School due to the age of the suspects.

Sam Pettineo, director of safety at ETHS, said the school cannot address flash mob action because it does not occur on school property.

Cherie Hansen, president of the ETHS Parent Teacher Student Association, said the school maintains a good relationship with the Evanston Police Department. Although she said she was not certain of recent flash mob activity, she noted that ETHS students are allowed to send text messages to adults if they spot suspicious activity during school.

In light of the flash mob participants' ages, some local teen programs have sought to increase efforts to combat violence in the community.

Youth Organizations Umbrella has dedicated itself to serving young adults and their families. Melody Rose, site coordinator, currently works with ETHS Monday through Friday throughout the school year and summer on programs designed specifically for high school students.

"That is the primary, at-risk demographic that we're trying to target," Rose said. "There is an academic component that focuses mainly on tutoring, but that is just a small piece of the program. The majority of it focuses on life skills development and promotes social skills that cause positive youth development."

Y.O.U conducts programs with an anti-bullying message and encourages students to make responsible choices on their own, she said.

Although ETHS students have been told to be always on the lookout and to be unafraid of reporting suspicious activity, EPD has asked for the public's cooperation in order to prevent future flash mob incidents.

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Y.O.U. Recruiting 40 Mentors in 40 Days
By: Marianne Moberly
Published: August 2, 2011

Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella), an Evanston-based non-profit youth development agency announces a new initiative, “40 Mentors in 40 Days.” The campaign is designed to recruit adult mentors for the agency’s Mentor Y.O.U.th program which provides site-based one-on-one mentoring to Evanston youth ages 11-17. Volunteers are asked to donate one hour per week to participate in arts and cultural, sports and recreational, academic enrichment, and life skills activities with their mentee. The weekly meeting occurs during Y.O.U.’s out-of school-time programming offered daily after school and on Saturday morning.

A mentor is a caring adult who offers support and encouragement. He or she is a guide, a listener, a coach, a positive role model, and a friend. Y.O.U. is seeking caring adults who are willing to make a long-term commitment and have a desire to positively influence the life of a youth. All mentors are screened, trained, and supervised. To participate, mentors must pass a reference and background check.

One of Y.O.U.’s current mentors recently wrote, “My weekly meetings with my mentee tend to be one of the highlights of my week. It’s amazing to see how our relationship has grown over the course of eight months. I can’t even begin to express in words the rewarding feeling I get knowing that I’m having a positive impact on such an amazing child’s life.”

You can find more information about Mentor Y.O.U.th and complete an application at www.40mentors40days.org. or contact Santrice Martin, Volunteer Coordinator, at (847) 866-1201, ext. 330 or at santrice.russellmartin@youevanston.org.

Youth Organizations Umbrella provides year-round after school and neighborhood-based programs to assist more than 600 young people and their families annually at six locations in Evanston. The “40 Mentors in 40 Days” initiative pays homage to the agency’s forty years of service to the community which is being celebrated in 2011. For more information about Y.O.U., visit www.youevanston.org.

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Evanston Unites Against Violence
By: Rachel C. Loyd
Published: July 5, 2011

The rainy weather did not stop 125-plus youth, family and community members from enjoying food and games as they signed-up for summer programs at the June 11 Community Kick-off to a Fun and Safe Summer at Robert Crown Community Center. Community partners Y.O.U., McGaw YMCA, Family Focus Evanston, Ridgeville Park District, YWCA, All Our Sons and the City of Evanston offered opportunities to mentor, volunteer and participate in a safe summer. Among many other games at the Kick-off, youth enjoyed battles in tug of war. Seth Green, Y.O.U. executive director, and coordinator of the event, joked that he joined in the tug-of-war, but the young competitors were too strong for him.

"The violence that has occurred in the past few months has been a call to action, and the Kick-off was [part of] the beginning of the response," Mr, Green said. "The Kick-off was a perfect start, and the community needs to sustain focus over time on building and maintaining caring relationships [with youth]."

Although he said the Kick-off was a good start, Mr. Green admitted that "there is still potential for a continuance of violence, but this can be an antidote…By bringing youth deep into summer programs, the community can create a nurturing environment."

The Kick-off may have been a tug in the right direction, but most community leaders knew it was only the beginning. Mr. Green said he appreciates the 1,000 donors who have contributed to Evanston community organizations, and said "We [all community partners] can work together for a safer, stronger community. The hard work begins here."

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Y.O.U. Names New Executive Director
By: Bill Smith
Published: May 1, 2011

The Board of Directors of  Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., an Evanston-based youth service organization, has named Seth Green as the group’s new executive director.

Green will start work May 24 and replaces retiring Executive Director Don Baker, who led the organization since its founding 40 years ago.

“It is impossible to measure Don Baker’s contributions to the Evanston community,” said Y.O.U. Board President, Chip Brady. “Don has been an incredible force for positive change.  That’s why we are so thrilled that Seth is joining us. He is an inspirational leader who has the capacity to not only continue our mission of 40 years, but to expand on it.”

Green previously led the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN), a public-private partnership in Philadelphia that builds pathways out of poverty for vulnerable adults and their families.

There he developed a network of innovative job training partnerships that helped over 400 adults gain new skills and higher wages each year. During his tenure, JOIN received a Social Innovation Fund grant, spearheaded an economic opportunity forum with all of Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial candidates, and hosted visits from senior Obama administration officials and congressional staff.

Before that Green worked at McKinsey and Company, American Prospect, the Brookings Institution, and Lazard LLC. He also founded Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), a non-partisan organization that empowers more than 23,000 youth members to tackle pressing social challenges from poverty to climate change.  In 2008, Utne Reader named him one of 50 “Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.”

A Marshall Scholar, Green received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, earned master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Oxford, and completed a juris doctor degree at Yale Law School.

“I am delighted to take on this new role because I believe that Y.O.U.'s work speaks to the soul of Evanston – a community that clearly values education, diversity, and inclusion,” Green said in a news release.

He will be joined by his wife, Caitlin Fitz, who has accepted a position as assistant professor of American History at Northwestern University, and daughter, Sojourner Fitz-Green.

“Y.O.U. has demonstrated for 40 years that making sure youth and families have the resources they need to thrive is a responsibility of the entire community,” he said. “That spirit is what makes this organization, and the city it serves, so special.”

Youth Organizations Umbrella provides year-round after school and neighborhood-based service programs to assist more than 400 young people and their families annually at six locations in the city.

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Q & A with New Y.O.U. Director
By: Jia You
Published: May 16, 201

Seth Green will succeed Don Baker as the executive director of the Evanston-based youth service organization Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc. on May 24. Green previously led the Job Opportunity Investment Network, a public-private partnership in Philadelphia that builds pathways out of poverty for vulnerable adults and their families. His wife, Caitlin Fitz, will be teaching American history at Northwestern starting next fall.


Daily: How do you feel about your new job?

Green: I think Y.O.U. is an incredibly exciting organization, and … I'm both thrilled being in such a valuable organization and similarly thrilled to be following the footsteps of someone who has made such a tremendous contribution to the community.

Daily: You were working for the Job Investment Opportunity Network in Philadelphia previously. Why did you join Y.O.U?

Green: Well, my wife accepted a job as an assistant professor in history at Northwestern. She's going to be starting at the faculty there in fall, so I was following her. And then I started looking at opportunities. By far, the one I was most excited about was Y.O.U. because I just think that what the organization is doing is so transformative and important.

Daily: So how does your new job compare to your work at JOIN?

Green: The biggest similarity is that both are focused on making sure that all people have the opportunity to realize their potential. The biggest difference is at JOIN, I focus primarily on helping

adults go back for education, build their social and emotional skills and then get jobs so that they can support their families. At Y.O.U., the primary focus is on youth, up to 18, although we're also very interested in supporting families that the youths are part of because we realized that you need holistic solutions to support young people.

Daily: What do you identify as the biggest challenges facing youths in Evanston?

Green: Obviously, the economy is a challenge for everyone. What a number of studies show is that the impact of living in poverty is very difficult on adolescent mental health because there's a tremendous amount of stress that goes along with that. Like the country, Evanston has seen increases in poverty with this recession, and that makes it very difficult for students to fully access all the resources they need to fully realize their potential. If you're a young person and you're worried about foreclosure, it's very hard to be fully present at school and to be able to fully realize your potential, so I say that's one challenge. Obviously, you probably have heard in the news some of the recent violence. I think all youths, and I'm sure all families in Evanston, are very concerned about the violence … The key is that we make places like the Evanston Township High School as safe as possible.

Daily: So how do you plan to address the impact of the economy and the violence on youth?

Green: On the impact of the recession, one of the things that are absolutely critical is that we have clinical counseling available to support students and their families on traumatic mental health issues. It is incredibly difficult to deal with the issues this recession has brought on families. And what a lot of research show is that programs that help people deal with those consequences are ultimately the most effective in helping ensure that those youth also end up succeeding in school and in social and emotional development. In terms of youth violence, this is something that we're still in conversation about. We're watching what's happening very closely, and we're talking with a lot of families that are involved in our programs and with a lot of experts in the field about how we can best address issues of violence in a way that is long term and supportive and holistic. And I think one of the things that speaks a lot about Evanston is that as this violence has happened, people have been asking all the right questions – how can we create a more supportive and nurturing environment for youths, how can we prevent youth being on their own (after school).

Daily: How has the transition from Philadelphia to Evanston been for you?

Green: I am formally moving in next weekend. I would say they have a lot in common. They're both cities with great resources but also inequality. I think what makes Evanston truly unique is the level of commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.

Daily: How does your daughter feel about moving to Evanston?

Green: Well, she's only four months old. The nice thing is that we really wanted to raise our daughter in a community like Evanston. We want her to go to schools that are diverse. We wanted her to be among a group of people who are facing the real challenges that people across the country are facing. We also want her to go to a great school where people really care about each other, where they value diversity instead of seeing it as a challenge. I'm just absolutely thrilled that my daughter can grow up in a place like Evanston.

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YOU Founder Well Prepared to Turn Over the Reins
By: Karen Berkowitz
Published: May 19, 2011

Don Baker used to worry when someone kindly remarked that “Don Baker is YOU,” all one and the same in their mind. “They meant it to be a compliment; I understand that,” said Baker. “But it scared me to death. If that’s true, what’s next?” said Baker, who founded the Youth Organizations Umbrella in 1971 and has headed the agency ever since.

The 65-year-old Baker is genuinely relieved to say he hasn’t heard that line in more than a year.

“I’m pleased about that,” said Baker, who will receive honors at a retirement party Thursday and officially turn over the executive director’s duties Tuesday to Seth Green, a Princeton- and Yale-educated social entrepreneur who is relocating from Philadelphia.

Baker, his staff of 23 and the YOU board of directors have painstakingly worked through what could have been a rocky passage for the organization. Baker is the first to concede that YOU was a poster example of “founders syndrome,” in which too much control and identity is vested in an agency’s founder or longtime director.

Explained Baker, “I had a vision. People thought I was doing a good job and deferred to me. They gave me too much authority and I took it.”

Baker’s longtime involvement with Evanston youth dates back to his days as a student at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

YOU has reinvented itself many times in its 40-year history as new needs arose around the city’s youth population.

For the past 20 years, the organization has focused primarily on youth in south Evanston of Jamaican, Haitian, African-American and Mexican descent.

“On the west side of Evanston, the families are deep rooted and multi-generation. It is a very cohesive community that has had to deal with the issues of racism and poverty,” he noted.

By contrast, minority and low-income families in south Evanston have come from all over.

“They don’t have those roots or political voice,” he said.

YOU serves more than 450 youths in after-school programs at Washington and Oakton elementary schools, Chute and Nichols middle schools and Evanston Township High School, employing scores of work-study college students mostly from Northwestern and Loyola universities.

The organization also mentors youth susceptible to gang influences through a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. YOU was the only Illinois agency to receive the grant, which goes to only 23 programs throughout the country.

YOU also continues to provide 24-hour crisis intervention and emergency housing to youths encountering turbulence in their home or family lives.

“What we are doing now is exactly where we need to be, targeting that population,” said Baker. “But it is not YOU’s mission to provide after-school programs. It is our mission to say, ‘What is the need now?’ That will change over time. At some point YOU is going to have to have the vision to retool itself. The fact that we have been stable for 20 years is both a gift and a danger.”

Green most recently headed the Job Opportunity Investment Network, a $5 million public-private partnership that builds pathways out of poverty for vulnerable adults and their families. He is the founder and board chairman of Americans for Informed Democracy, a nonpartisan organization that empowers youth to tackle pressing social challenges from poverty to climate change. He was recently a plenary speaker at the 2011 White House Conference on Connecting Communities for the Common Good. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University, earned master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Oxford and holds a degree from Yale University Law School.

Green is relocating with his wife, Caitlin Fitz, who has accepted a position as assistant professor of American history at Northwestern University, and daughter, Sojourner Fitz-Green.

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Evanston Organizations Offer Job Opportunities for NU Students During Summer
By: Kimberly Railey
Published: May 26, 2011

Last summer, Marielle Meurice interned at Evanston's CarePoint, a nonprofit organization that works with marginalized populations like the hom