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Newsletter – March 2022

Strategies for Transforming Youth into Leaders

Youth Crossroads provides programs that strengthen the support structures that youth need to achieve success in school, at home, and in life. Our Youth Leadership Programs (YLP) use community service to build the capacity of youth for self-reliance, self-confidence, self-sacrifice, teamwork, and social responsibility. YLP develops role models and mentors to guide, support, and inspire other students to strive for greatness. YLP also offers academic support, enrichment programs, leadership training, and college and job readiness workshops. In 2021, 95% of YLP rising seniors went on to college, significantly higher than their peer group. 

YLP Director Briani Shorter discusses strategies behind our YLP programs.

Interview with Briani Shorter

When do you start at Youth Crossroads?
I started my journey at Youth Crossroads in 2018 as a college intern for the youth development department. At that time, I had no idea what I wanted to do in the field of social work but after completing my internship I knew I wanted to work with youth, preferably teens.

What are the programs you oversee? Who are your staff and interns?
I oversee Youth Development Programs at Youth Crossroads. This includes Youth Connections Academics (YCA), which is our after-school enrichment program for middle school students at Heritage and Freedom middle schools. I also oversee the Youth Leadership Program (YLP), a stipend paid leadership program that helps students prepare for the future.
Our staff consist of a Youth Development Coordinator, Michelle Bahena, two Youth Development Specialists, Arafat Olori and Jacquie Frausto, and a Youth Leadership Specialist Olivia Paplaczyk. I also oversee eight college interns from various universities that are pursuing a bachelors or master’s degree in social work or social service-related field.

What kinds of students do you see in YLP? What attracts them to the program?
In YLP we see high school students living within our service area (Berwyn, Cicero, Lyons, Stickney, Forest View). What attracts them to the program is the ability to grow in their community, their social life by making new friends, and plan for their future. We offer a lot of experiences for students that are either no cost or low cost.

What are the primary challenges (personal/academic) facing students in your program?
Covid, covid and more covid! Our program has been able to maintain itself during the pandemic. However, we can’t serve our students nearly at the capacity we did pre-pandemic. As a result, our students have been confronted with a lot of challenges such as maintaining a social life, adjusting to in person classes after two years, heightened mental health related issues, and financial struggles.

Why is community service a focus of the program? How does community service benefit students?
Volunteering helps teenagers gain skills such as leadership, good communication, time management and decision-making. Back at the conception of YLP, a community survey was given out to Berwyn and Cicero and surrounding areas regarding their opinions of youth, specifically teens. Community members described teens as “lazy,” “involved with gangs,” and “disrespectful,” just to name a few. By showing our YLPers the importance of community and taking ownership of it we control the narrative to prove that all the assumptions about teens
are untrue.

How does YLP help students achieve academic success and go on to college?
We give our youth one major tool to help them achieve academic success and go to college and
that is exposure. It does not matter if you are a freshman in high school or a senior in high
school, we meet each student where they are and let them know their post-secondary options.
We partner with organizations, universities, and professionals to help students navigate their
college goals. As a program we provide scholarships such as One Step Ahead Scholarship (OSA)
to show our commitment to helping our students get into college.

How do you see your program evolving in the coming year(s)?
We want to expand our leadership training to neighboring suburbs not already in our service area. In the next few years, we hope to receive support from schools to run the programs in the actual buildings. We want to increase our capacity for committed and eager staff who serve as a trusted adult to youth. I hope that YLP will exist 20 years from now, because it is everything I needed when I was in high school.

Blowitz-Ridgeway Foundation Awards YC Grant

The Blowitz-Ridgeway Foundation has awarded a $15,000 grant to YC to support our counseling services. The grant will help make it possible for us to hire another counselor who, in addition to seeing students, can provide counseling supervision to staff and interns at all schools. The Blowitz-Ridgeway Foundation is committed to improving the health and well-being of individuals and families in Chicago and collar counties. 

YLP Students Lead Food Pantry

Community service is the foundation of our Youth Leadership Program. Last month our YLPers hosted a food pantry at Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church,1246 S. Harvey in Berwyn, which helped feed 135 food-insecure families in our community. YLP has trained thousands of local teens to lead 150(+) community service projects building their capacity for self-reliance, self-sacrifice, social responsibility, and mentorship.

YC Hosts Art Therapy Class at Heritage Middle School

Art therapist Rachel Hall is facilitating a pilot art therapy class for students at Heritage Middle School this month. The goal is to provide students with a safe and peaceful space for self-expression through artwork. In this first session, students sketched whatever represents them — an item, hobby, or something they’ve enjoyed. This allows students to better communicate things about themselves through their artwork.

Three YLP Students Awarded Success Scholarships to Dominican University

The journey to college has become more in reach to three YLP seniors. Betsy Carreno, Erika Jacobo, and Jazmine Munoz are set to receive Dominican University’s SUCCESS Scholarship (Students from Under-represented Communities College Enrichment Scholarship), a $2,500 renewable scholarship if they decide to attend Dominican University in the fall. This scholarship is based on their contributions to YLP.

YC Facilitates Discussion on Race at Morton East High School

Briani Shorter, YC’s Youth Development Program Coordinator, recently facilitated a conversation between Morton East High School’s Black Universal Group and principal Jose Gamboa to discuss unfair treatment of black students. The Group was planning a walk-out because of their ongoing concerns about a pattern of racism behavior from security and teachers. The conversation appeared productive and more discussions are planned.