Snow had begun to lightly fall as I walked out my front door this evening. It was 6:05PM and the meeting was due to start at 6:30PM. The walk is not far from my house. Down my street for 2 minutes, then across the railway tracks that lead into Chicago and out to Auroa. After brisk walk north I arrive at 27th Street in all of 15 minutes. Along the way I pull the cords on the hood of my down jacket tighter to seal it around the woolen beanie I had slipped on over my head. Turning west along 27th I soon arrive at the offices of Youth Crossroads (YC) Inc., a local non-profit organization who has been serving youth and their families from Berwyn, Cicero, Forest View, Lyons, and Stickney in Illinois for the last 40 years.
Why am I here? Why did I log out of my computer at 5:45PM, taking a break from my writing, grab my iPad and my journal (yes I still carry both) and dig deep to make the short walk on a cold November evening?
One the surface I was invited to.
More deeply I wanted to.
In June this year I was talking with Jeff Janda from the local Park Districts where I live in Illinois. He mentioned that he and David Terrazino, the Executive Director from YC were putting together a group to develop a Youth Survey so local community organizations could learn more about what youth in Berwyn want. I happily agreed to assist. It was through this initiative that I got to know David, and some of his team at YC. The more we met to discuss and design the survey, the more I learned about their programs, and the more I wanted to be involved. Why?
On the surface I believe that the voice of youth matter.
More deeply I know we adults are often too busy talking to listen.
While working on the youth survey an opportunity came up for YC to apply for a state grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services. A grant that would help to fund the organizations Youth Leadership Program (YLP) for another nine months. It would be used to pay staffing costs, cover program overheads and pay for some much needed new technology. After working on the application and meeting the states one month deadline, David invited me to attend the next board meeting and to consider joining the board as a member.
On the surface I was flattered by his invitation.
More deeply I was moved by the responsibility I knew that would come with it.
For as long as I can remember I have worked with nonprofit organizations in one capacity or another. I started as a young child helping my mother deliver meals on wheels to the elderly residents in the small country town in Australia where we lived. I’ll always remember one gentleman. He was a veteran like my father but much older. When we’d drop off his meal, waiting at the door to be allowed into his house, he’d exchange the hospital container in our hands for a small bag of sweets that were shaped like teeth. My sisters and I would thank him and watch as he smiled showing a grin with gaps where some of his teeth had once been. My sisters and I would spend the rest of the drive around town eating the sweets while being reminded by our mother that we were the only people he and the other elderly people would probably see all day.
So the seed was planted and while I have travelled much of my adult life, I have always held a place in my schedule for nonprofits who are working to make our world a better place. They are the true social businesses that could do well to remind many other businesses what a social good, a social service and being truly social is all about. My organizations of choice have always been arts groups and educational teams offering learning opportunities. And out of all my work over the years, working with nonprofits has always been the most rewarding. Why?
On the surface they give and given and ask little.
More deeply they value people and the ideals they are working for.
Now if there is anything my childhood and parents in Australia have and continue to show me. That my education and work with young people in universities has taught me. And my research has helped me to see more clearly is that when we talk of changing the world for the better, changing the system to be more equitable, providing opportunities for those who most need them and helping young people to forge their own path … that the best place where we can start, sign up, log on, turn up and fight for … is in our own backyards. It within our own community groups and throughout our local neighborhoods. Why?
On the surface this is the community physically closest to us.
More deeply this is the community who we can impact the most.
When large national financial institutions are faulting on their commitment to consumers; multinational companies are moving opportunities and resources offshore; colleges and universities are charging ever more for an education and our governments keep fighting, it is in our homes and the neighborhoods around them that we can draw solace and where we can work to make significant change especially for our youth. When young people are encouraged and supported to have a voice at home, in school and across their own community, by their own community, it impacts them significantly in how they use their voice to be anywhere in the world.
For me it is here in my own backyard that I feel a true sense of the community many people often talk about as missing in our ever connected, albeit digitally, of times. It is also here that I am witness to acts of empathy and collaboration that many design firms insist we need more of. I see it in the young people on the 311 bus making their way to or from school happily chatting, taking selfies and sharing homework notes. It is in the local supermarket, Familia Fresh that I overhear conversations as people bump into friends and share stories with each other. It is living in a neighborhood where in the winter we shovel each others footpaths and in the summer, spring and autumn mow each others lawns. It is in the hundreds of activities organized by parents, teachers and members of local organizations who come together to raise money, raise awareness and do good locally. Why?
On the surface they are of the community for whom they serve.
More deeply they fear if they don’t support their own community who will.
As I sat in on my first YC board meeting tonight. As I listened to a review of the executive directors report for the month, the review of program activity and project summaries. As I made a note on my iPad about the forthcoming fundraising events — one of the boards more important and the organizations most needed activities, I welcomed the opportunity to join. I enjoyed listening to this small group of local people who without doubt are passionately dedicated to improving the lives of young people here and throughout our neighboring cities.
Next. Agenda Item VII. My appointment to the board. Do I have questions for them? Do they of me? We chat and I leave the room so they can discuss and vote in private. David appears at the conference room door after 5 minutes and invites me back in. As I sit back in my seat Steven, the chair of the meeting invites me to join the board of directors. Do I accept?
On the surface I do.
More deeply I already long had.
YC’s mission is to “act in the best interest of youth, guiding them through life’s challenges, and inspiring them to discover new opportunities for personal development, healthy relationships, and positive community involvement.” They are working hard to change not just the life of one young person; they are doing everything they can to serve the lives of thousands of young people across the Western suburbs of Chicago. This is an area underfunded and under represented in different ways. It is an area no different to others across the state and the country in the dreams, hopes and aspirations of its young people.
It is here that the words of Mary Mcleod Bethune perhaps are most fitting. Words that capture why many people, myself included, value the development of young people in our local communities and across our worlds so much so we join boards of organizations and dig deep to help to raise funds to pay for the programs which serve them.
We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices to that we may direct their power toward good ends.
— Mary Mcleod Bethune.
Youth Crossroads, Inc. (YC) is a non-profit community-based organization whose mission is to act in the best interest of youth, guiding them through life’s challenges, and inspiring them to discover new opportunities for personal development, healthy relationships, and positive community involvement.
Since 1974, YC has assisted tens of thousands of youth and their families from the Berwyn, Cicero, Stickney, Forest View, and Lyons, Illinois communities. We collaborate extensively with local school districts, government agencies, police departments, and other human service organizations to provide youth and family counseling services, crisis intervention for runaway and locked-out youth, school/community-based trauma response and prevention programs, after-school enrichment programs, and youth leadership development services. All YC services are provided at no cost to youth and families and are bi-cultural, bi-lingual English/Spanish.