Clara was a healthy, vibrant, and academically accomplished 6th grader before the pandemic began. She was fun and creative and had lots of friends. “Something suddenly changed in her when the pandemic hit,” her mother said. “She went from being a happy little girl to being really anxious and sad all the time. It got so bad she ended up in the hospital where she was treated for depression.”
While Clara’s story may be an extreme example, most of the students that Youth Crossroads counselors have been seeing at the beginning of the school year are experiencing extraordinary levels of stress and anxiety in their lives because of the pandemic.
“A lot of the students I have met with seem to be struggling to establish their confidence, adjusting to this new normal at school,” said Laura Marsicek, a YC counseling intern at Morton West High School in Berwyn. “Students are finding it difficult to feel comfortable and secure within themselves. Reaching out to new friends, teachers, and keeping up with homework is overwhelming for a lot of these students,” Laura said. “Students are having a difficult time expressing their difficulties with all the adjustments and changes. When students feel overwhelmed, they don’t feel comfortable reaching out and talking about their emotions.”
“I have discovered how important it is to work with students to identify helpful coping skills during this adjustment period. To make this adjustment easier, I speak to students about finding ways to bring the comfort of home to the classroom. This can look like listening to certain music or bringing a small stuffed animal in their backpack,” Laura said.
For Natalie Palm, a counselor at Morton Alternative High School in Cicero, students really seem to be struggling with anxiety. “I am working with a 17-year-old male who is dealing with a lot of stress which is making schoolwork difficult for him. We’ve spent a lot of time building awareness of what his triggers are and trying out different coping skills to see which works best for him,” Natalie said. “While the student still feels anxious from time to time, he seems better able to mentally prepare for anxiety-inducing situations and use healthy coping skills such as deep breathing and challenging unhelpful thoughts,” Natalie said.
To help Clara, YC’s Director of Counseling Services Michelle Desideri has focused on helping Clara learn new ways to express and manage these sometimes-overwhelming feelings. “The pandemic has really turned everyone’s world upside down in so many unpredictable ways,” Michelle said. “This is particularly true with young people in our community whose lives were not built on the most solid foundations to begin with. A lot of our youth have experienced a lot of family turmoil and chaos in their lives during the pandemic which just added to the uncertainty of it all. Our primary focus is to help youth and families build a greater sense of safety and stability in their lives so they can confidently take on whatever challenges are coming next,” Michelle said.
Over the course of the year, we are going to check in periodically with YC counselors and youth development professionals to see how they are helping their students adjust to the new normal. Just imagine how much harder it would be for these students to succeed in school and in life without the help and support of counselors like Michelle, Natalie, and Laura.
10 things you need to know about Youth Crossroads:
Warm Coat, Costume and Book Distribution Event
Youth leadership students hosted a costume and book distribution event for 3–10-year-olds on Tuesday, September 28 at Youth Crossroads. Youth leaders read stories, created fun activities,
and distributed books, costumes, and winter coats to more than 50 children. Thanks go to World Vision’s Operation Warmth for donating the winter coats; Immanuel Lutheran Church for donating the Superhero, Toy Story, and Princess costumes; and United Way of Chicago for donating the books.
Annual YC Halloween Fundraiser October 30
Ghosts, goblins, vampires, witches, and more will gather for Youth Crossroads annual fundraiser on Saturday, October 30, 5 – 10 p.m., 6501 Stanley Ave. The Halloween fundraiser, which is hosted by our always terrifying Board Chair Gil Pena and his frighteningly beautiful wife Alma Pena, is one of the signature social events on the Berwyn/Cicero calendar. There will be 1st and 2nd prizes for best costumes, raffles, games, door prizes, ghoulish grubs, and spooky spirits.
Tickets to the fundraiser are $50 per person, and all proceeds benefit Youth Crossroads.
Oz is running the Chicago Marathon for Youth Crossroads
Oscar Zamudio, long-time friend, and supporter of Youth Crossroads is running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 10 to raise money for the organization’s counseling services and youth development programs. Donate today HERE
Youth Crossroads Distributes Food to 3,845 Local Families
In response to the growing crisis of food insecurity in our community, Elida Ortiz, YC’s Community/Parent Liaison, helps youth and families gain access to food resources. Eli has built a network of food depositories and volunteers in the community which have distributed more than 130,000 of pounds of food to families in need. Eli has also been instrumental in connecting residents to vaccine information and vaccinations.
YC Trains 20 Counseling Interns for Schools
YC introduced a new class of interns in September to support school-based counseling through the school year at Morton East High School, Morton West High School, the Morton West Freshman Academy, Morton Alternative, Heritage Middle School, Freedom Middle School and Lincoln Middle School. The interns receive 64 hours of training in trauma response and social justice, social emotional learning, cultural competency, creating safe spaces, and powerful interventions.
YC Receives $130,000 Grant from Healthy Communities Foundation
Healthy Communities Foundation has awarded YC a grant for $130,000. The foundation supports organizations that further their mission of “improving the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities by promoting health equity, quality, and access.” “Youth Crossroads’ community-based, integrated approach to addressing an increased need for mental health services for youth and their families has been instrumental in Berwyn and surrounding communities during the pandemic,” said Nora Garcia, Healthy Communities Foundation Director of Programs. “We look forward to our continued partnership with Youth Crossroads as we work towards an equitable recovery for residents in our service region,” Garcia said.