by Emily Orenstein, University of Chicago Institute of Politics Intern

“What does your success look like?” Executive Director Dr. Toni Irving asked at the kickoff for Get IN Chicago’s Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care (SYNC) initiative.  Among the responses in the crowd, one answer rose up: “Get people to trust one another.”

Through different speakers and activities, trust and communication emerged as consistent themes of the day.  SYNC is a new collaboration between local juvenile justice agencies, mentoring and therapy programs, case management teams, and technical assistance providers, and trust and communication is crucial to its success.  Not only do providers need to gain the trust of youth in SYNC, but they must foster communication among each other to allow warm, seamless handoffs between previously disconnected services.  Accomplishing SYNC’s goal of helping acutely high-risk youth have safer, healthier, and more successful trajectories starts with creating a supportive community of SYNC providers.

With that end in mind, mentors, therapists, program staff, and community workers from SYNC and other Get IN Chicago programs recently gathered to attend a daylong retreat at Loyola Law School.  The purpose of the day was to learn, reflect, and above all connect. The event, which was coordinated by MENTOR Illinois, brought together participants from all seven Get IN Chicago focus communities: Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Roseland, South Shore, and West Englewood.  What united the group was their commitment to collaborate and ultimately make a difference with some of Chicago’s hardest-to-reach youth.

After Dr. Irving’s opening remarks, participants discussed specific components related to SYNC: innovative referral and recruitment systems, centralized intake and case management, youth engagement and retention,  partnerships (such as with Cook County Juvenile Probation), and evaluation.

Additionally, the agenda acknowledged the integral role that families and communities play in violence reduction.  Staff from parent engagement programs and the Community Collaboration and Resident Empowerment (CCRE) community coordinators were in attendance to offer advice and opportunities for synergy.  “This job is too hard for just some of us-  it takes all of us,” Della Ezell of Youth Guidance reminded the audience.

Participants were encouraged to mingle with individuals and teams whom they hadn’t yet met throughout the day.  In the afternoon, the group split up by community for a series of team-building exercises designed to build communication and cooperation. Laughter echoed through the room as groups worked together to put a jumbled-up picture book back in order and guide golf balls through tarp mazes.

The event also included the first STAR awards of the year.  These monthly awards are designed to encourage, promote, and recognize SYNC mentors and therapists/clinicians who have demonstrated a spirit of collaboration, a tireless commitment to youth, have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and have been responsive to the unique needs of youth they serve.  Congratulations to the inaugural honorees, Jimi Orange of Children’s Home + Aid and Terrence Isaac of Westside Health Authority!

Terrence was unable to attend so his supervisor Tina Cooper accepted the award on his behalf.


To round out the day, Jackie Garlock of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY) and Karrie Mills (UCAN) Chicago led the group in a mini-training on self-care (21-Day Self-Care Challenge). Both stressed the importance of care and healing for workers who help clients through trauma daily – as almost all Get IN Chicago service providers do.  They reminded their audience to check in with themselves regularly in order to avoid burnout and fatigue.

By the end of the day, a positive and determined energy filled the room. Participants networked with others from their areas, posed for selfies in their new SYNC t-shirts, and exchanged hugs.

“We’re all working together, we have to trust one another,” said Ore Jones, Deputy Chief Juvenile Probation Officer. “Kids trust care.”


All photos by Harvey Tillis