2015 marked Get IN Chicago’s first official summer funding cycle.  While the majority of our funding is dedicated to evidence-based programs ready for rigorous measurement, we adjust our approach for summer programs.  Summer is a time when violence peaks in Chicago.  Consequently, our summer funding guidelines place a high priority on whether an activity is safe, fun, and social.  With no school in session, we prioritize keeping kids out of harm’s way during July and August.

In 2015, we awarded over $1 million to summer programs, providing opportunities for almost 1,000 youth.   Our grants supported 10 programs with common threads of job training, community engagement, and creative approaches to our core programming.

Job Training

Ask a young person how they want to spend their summer, and the majority will give the same answer: with a summer job.  Who wouldn’t want to earn extra money and get a leg up on future employment with a solid resume boost?  Unfortunately, not every kid can find or qualify for a job, which is why programs incorporating job training skills or workplace development can be so valuable.

One of our 2015 summer grantees, Children’s Home + Aid, partnered with Greencorps Chicago, a green industry job training program for academically struggling high schoolers.  To enhance Greencorps programming, Children’s Home + Aid provided group therapy sessions onsite each week and provided additional group outings throughout the month of August.  Staff incorporated therapy into group outings as well as job training activities, using the mock interviews as a time to work on self-regulation, distress tolerance, and distraction techniques.  Another grantee, KLEO, provided mentoring in conjunction with the One Summer Chicago job and job training program, and Black Ensemble Theater trained youth in professional theater skills.

WHA graduation

Westside Health Authority summer 2015 participants pose at their graduation ceremony.

Community Engagement

Many 2015 summer grantees also incorporated community engagement into their programs.  Not only are these activities in line with the Get IN Chicago strategic focus, but grantees reported positive reviews from youth who participated in community empowerment activities.  At Chicago Urban League, 100% of participants completed more than 20 hours of community service over the summer.  Youth in the Westside Health Authority summer program also completed community activities, including workshops with local police aimed at improving perceptions and relationships.  Alternatives, Inc. used their summer funding to train youth as future restorative justice peer counselors, and each of their sites also worked on a unique social justice issue.  Alternatives’ summer culminated in a final event at Roosevelt University to share projects from all sites, giving the students a sense of the connection between their work and the work being done by their peers across the city.

YG Summer Program 2015

Youth Guidance summer 2015 participants pose with staff

Creative Approaches to Core Programs

We know that a strong program can’t make a difference if kids won’t show up.  For that reason, we funded a number of summer programs approaching our core areas of mentoring and cognitive behavioral therapy in new ways.   Our Englewood Police/Youth Baseball League and Metrosquash summer programs combined sports with mentoring, and Smart Chicago’s Youth-Led Tech program mixed mentoring, leadership development, and job skills with technology education.  By the end of Smart Chicago’s program, 91% of the participants felt confident that they could build a WordPress website on their own.

Youth Guidance’s summer program provided mentorship and summer therapy to a group of students during one of their most vulnerable time periods: the summer before starting high school.  While Youth Guidance’s program resulted in a number of positive outcomes, the youth seemed to gain some of their strongest benefits from relationships with staff.  100% of students surveyed said that their staff member cared about them, and more than 90% reported that their staff person got to know him/her, listened, and inspired trust.

All kids deserve these kinds of summer activities, with safe places, caring adults, promising opportunities, and new connections.  We look forward to expanding these types of opportunities for youth in summer 2016, with a more concentrated focus on reaching our focus demographic: acutely high-risk youth. Stay tuned for our updated summer funding guidelines and application, coming soon!