Get IN Chicago awarded Metropolitan Family Services a grant to provide intake, case management, and social services for our Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care (SYNC) initiative.  Staff from Metropolitan Family Services work with teams of mentors and clinicians to screen potential participants, develop individualized service plans, and provide ongoing support for needs such as housing, job assistance, parenting classes, and childcare in each of our seven focus communities.  Last year, the Metropolitan Family Services team provided these SYNC services to nearly 1,000 young people.  Learn more about a member of the Metropolitan Family Services staff – Kevin Murillo, SYNC Youth Navigator.

Kevin Murillo

 

 

 

How did you start working with youth or in supportive services?
I started working with MFS in 2014, first with Get Covered Illinois and then a program called Youth Futures as a case manager. Youth Futures was focused on helping youth get back into school, find jobs, and keep at whatever path they chose.  As case managers, we wore a lot of hats: we mentored, tutored, counseled, gave money management advice and taught basic life skills.

Most of the kids in the program were juvenile justice involved.  I try not to talk down to the kids and the mindset I try to push is what we have in common: I was a teenager once, and I made my share of not great decisions.  But I was lucky – my parents were really supportive.  I went to a high school where I had many teachers who cared, who told me, “You can go to college, you can graduate, you can do anything.” A lot of the kids that I work with don’t have those same supports – their systems are broken, so to speak. So to be able to provide that support for youth, that’s what got me into this work.  And now, I still approach all the kids on my caseload by thinking, “What do they need? What are they missing?  What do I have that I can offer them?”

 

What are your specific responsibilities as a navigator in South Shore?
We provide an extra layer of support in addition to the mentoring. So let’s say, a mentor might notice that one of their youth is in need of extra counseling.  My role is to help the mentor – and the mentee – get connected to that resource.  For example, one of the youth in the SYNC mentoring program had an altercation with his father.  In working with him, we eventually determined that the whole family could benefit from counseling.  The mother was a little resistant to the idea at first, and it took some continued effort from our team to build the relationship and earn her trust. But eventually, we were able to link her to another SYNC partner, One Hope United, who offers a family counseling and a one-on-one counseling program for youth.  Having that connection was instrumental: we were able to find a really great program to serve them, where they can get that help, closer to their home in South Shore.

We also have a number of youth who have children of their own – on my caseload alone, we have three teenage moms who recently gave birth. MFS has a young fathers program and a number of early childhood parenting programs, so we are working on enrolling the youth in those types of services.  We are also finding ways to connect them with childcare so they don’t have to miss class and school.

I’m lucky to work with a fantastic team of case managers at Metropolitan Family Services. I was taught by some of the best people as well – my manager Jennifer McCraw,  and my former supervisors Quincy and Sophia have been very instrumental in how I structure myself and in my approach to young people. I’m also grateful to work with two great organizations – KLEO and One Hope United – their mentors and the clinicians also deserve praise.

 

 

What has been the most inspiring thing you’ve seen or learned in your work with SYNC youth?
More than anything – seeing the positive impact that the mentors and this program have on young people. I recently spoke with the mother of a youth we had referred to mentoring with KLEO over the summer.  She informed me of the progress that her son was making – his mentor was able to get her son enrolled school and secure a work position with Mayor Emmanuel’s One Summer Chicago. She was also grateful for the change in her son’s attitude.  Initially, he was not enthusiastic about engaging with us.  But working with us, he said he has been surprised and happy to know that there were people that actually cared.

 

What excites you about SYNC?
New and innovative programs will always face challenges, but I happily take on those challenges because I know that there are youth that are depending on us. What excites me about SYNC is quite simply working and interacting with the youth. Every youth we encounter is different – even those with similar upbringing or demographic backgrounds have different ways of handling and coping.  With SYNC, we are able to guide, teach, and inspire the next generation, and likewise we learn and adapt from our interactions with them.  They also inspire us to keep pushing forward; they are the fuel to our fire.