interview by Alexandria Santistevan, John Marshall Law School Intern
Get IN Chicago’s SYNC (Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care) initiative aims to strengthen mentoring and CBT programs and create a rigorous, central intake and case management system for acutely high-risk youth in Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Roseland, South Shore, and West Englewood. To introduce you to more of our SYNC partners, we plan to profile staff members from our service organizations over the next few weeks.
Youth Development Coach at UCAN
Works in North Lawndale
Originally from Baltimore, Maryland
Tell us about yourself and your job.
I have been working with youth for about seven years and at UCAN for about a year now. I really enjoy working with youth. The main thing that I push is leadership, telling youth they have a voice and that they can use their voice at the age they are at right now.
Who are the kids in the program – how did they all end up here?
I work with girls specifically, and the youth referred to our program are considered the ones at high risk of suspension, tardiness, and disciplinary issues at school… But a lot of the students we work with, we found ourselves. For example, in a school, if we keep seeing the same kids coming in to the principal’s office, we’ll pick them up for our program. We also receive a lot of referrals from the kids already in our program.
How do you know what you’re doing makes a difference with the youth?
As far as tangible evidence, we use a scale that includes asking youth a series of questions – incidence of violence, goals, and progress toward those goals. We can also observe small steps. For example, if now a young person is fighting less, that’s progress for us. If now they’re only tardy once a week, that’s progress.
Can you share a memorable experience with a student?
I work with a girl who was recently featured in a story that aired on the news. Her father was killed last November, and I started mentoring her in February. To hear her story and the way she has progressed, I realized how our program has helped.
When her dad died, she quit track, sports, dancing – she totally shut down. I had encouraged her to get more involved in activities, but it wasn’t until I saw that news report that it really hit me. She has made strides, and it was one of those moments where I realized what I did was making a difference.
How do you collaborate with other Get IN Chicago organizations?
Last year, Chicago Urban League hosted a basketball tournament with other organizations in the Get IN Chicago mentoring cohort. It gave us a chance to have all our youth from different neighborhoods come together in a safe way. We also have a strong network so that if, for example, I need help finding a youth a job, there is a cohort member who knows an organization that can help me.
The kids that we work with are not bad kids – a lot of them just have issues that they are dealing with. We’re helping them get through their situations. I think that’s key. If you label them as bad, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They’re good kids.