Meet Lorenzo: Caring gardener and future police officer

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Kindness is extremely important to Lorenzo.

The 9-year-old wants to be a police officer someday to protect people in his neighborhood.

But he is already working to better his community. One of Lorenzo’s favorite clubs at CYC-Fellowship House in Bridgeport is gardening. Just last week, Lorenzo was planting flowers in pots to beautify the neighborhood.

“It’s important to plant seeds so we can have more food to live, and so we can plant trees to help us breathe,” he said.

Lorenzo cares deeply about the people around him and always steps up to help where it is needed, said Dushunda Henderson, Center Director at CYC-Fellowship House. 

“We respect people by being kind to them and by helping them,” Lorenzo said.

It is clear where Lorenzo’s strong affection for his neighborhood comes from. Both of Lorenzo’s parents attended CYC-Fellowship House as children, and are active on the Center’s Local Board today.

That sense of community only blooms at the Center. CYC-Fellowship House youth actively participates in community service projects.

“The Center provides an important outlet for children like Lorenzo to not only help their community, but the world,” Dushunda said. “Our summer programs give kids a safe place to explore their interests.”

This summer, Lorenzo looks forward to making art, playing sports, swimming, and going on field trips.

"I have a lot of fun at CYC," he said.

Meet Tatiana: Bright student and tomorrow's nurse

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Tatiana, 7, can’t pick just one favorite subject.

“My favorite area at CYC is the reading area, and then I also like the Maker Lab because you get to make new inventions…. And my favorite part of math is learning timetables and finishing the problems!”

When asked if there’s anything she doesn’t like, Tatiana, who attends CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center in North Lawndale, responds with a resounding “no.”

“The more you learn, the smarter you get!” she said.

CYC youth worker Karen Knox said Tatiana loves a challenge, and once she puts her mind to a project, she works until she accomplishes it. It is easy to spot Tatiana’s hunger for knowledge, and CYC’s broad range of programs nurtures her love for learning even during summer break.

“It’s really important to give children that extra boost,” said Karen. “Coming here to not only do fun activities, but also academic ones gives her an extra drive.”

During the summer months, Karen has seen much growth in youth attending CYC programs.

“By seeing the role models at the Center, kids start carrying themselves as leaders, and begin helping out and working hard,” she said. “It’s a safe haven for the children.”

Tatiana’s dream is to be a nurse like her hero: her mom.

“I love CYC because they help you, teach you new things, and give you a lot of information so you can pay attention and get it all right,” Tatiana said with a big smile on her face.

Meet Cameron: Determined inventor and avid learner

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When Cameron talks about the Maker Lab at CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center in Bronzeville, his eyes immediately light up.

“I would guarantee that no kid would ever say that they are bored at CYC because there is so much to do,” said Cameron.

CYC STEM Manager Steven Willis said that the 14-year-old is mostly drawn to activities that require planning, research, and analytics.

Last summer, Cameron joined the Fashion Design club because it sounded interesting and gave him a chance to expand out of his comfort zone.

Because the club required team work, it helped Cameron come out of his shell.

“He really flourished in terms of getting along with his peers,” Steven said. “I think it’s the fact that he realized there were other teens who had the same interest as him. That’s one of the real beauties of our program here: there is so much diversity with the students in terms of their skillsets and their abilities.”

Cameron said over the nine years he has been coming to CYC, the best skills he has picked up are time management, self-control, courage, and independence.

“CYC is a place where people want to be,” said Cameron, who is the youngest of four siblings who have attended the Center. “It’s a place to relax and learn at the same time. It’s like a family.”

Meet India: Ambitious musician and future doctor

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It is 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and 11-year-old India is focused intently on her viola.

It is a little tough, but she needs to pluck the strings on her instrument in the correct order before she can even whip out her bow.

After the second or third attempt, she gives a triumphant grin as she masters the notes.

For the past three years, India has been learning the violin and viola through music programs offered at CYC-Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center in South Shore. Her strong passion for music translates perfectly to her love of the dance club, which she will participate in during the summer.

“It makes me feel like I can do anything, and I can believe in myself,” India said.

India, who has been attending CYC for four years, said she has a lot of fun with all the different activities that are offered at the Center—especially during the summer months.

“It’s important to keep her engaged through the summer because she’s very intelligent,” said Kiana Lewis, CYC Out-of-School Time youth worker. “To provide support year-round, helps kids feel supported.”

When India grows up, she wants to be a doctor to “help homeless people and destroy diseases.”

She plans to implement her music education in a very special way: “If my patients need music, I’ll play it for them,” she said with a soft smile.

The many sides of gardening

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CYC kids aren’t afraid of getting their hands a little dirty.

Whether they’re growing their own vegetables, beautifying their neighborhoods, or learning about the environment, CYC’s various gardening programs immerse children in a broad variety of subjects.

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While the weather is chillier, the children at CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center in North Lawndale are learning about seed viability. Out-of-School Time Manager Kim George said the weekly gardening class uses three simple tools for this: a seed, a damp paper towel, and sunlight.

By wrapping a seed in a damp paper towel within a sandwich bag and taping it to the window, the kids are able to closely monitor if the seed is sprouting.

“They talk about how long it takes for a seed to germinate, then they count out and set up a timeline for when they expect the seeds to grow,” Kim said. “If the seeds are growing, we know they are viable and will work well in a garden.”

By marking how many seeds germinate, the kids are also able to calculate the probability that a plant will successfully grow in their garden.

“Gardening is very academic,” Kim said. “It’s a good hands-on-way of learning different topics. There are simple things like having practice counting, and other parts like monitoring weather.

Aside from the strong math and science components of gardening, youth are also learning good nutrition habits, facts about the environment, skills like patience and persistence, and an appreciation for community engagement.

“I like to learn about plants and how they grow,” said Clayton, 8. “It is important because we need plants to survive.”

Later this month, the children will present about seed viability and youth gardening at the Chicago Community Gardeners Association Conference.

“This will be their third time presenting,” Kim said. “It’s just really encouraging for them.”

Last fall, the garden at CYC-Epstein also received the Chicago Excellence in Gardening Award.

Igniting a love for glass art

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Through an ongoing partnership with Ignition Community Glass, youth from CYC’s Centers are participating in a five-week glass art session with the local non-profit.

In the classes, which are held at both CYC Centers and at Ignite Glass Studios, youth are learning cold and hot glass techniques, while creating art pieces like decorative glass squares, night lights, and paper weights.

The partnership is made possible due to funding from the Zakat Foundation of America. CYC Auxiliary Board Co-Chair Paul Morgan, the executive director of Ignition Community Glass, has also helped to nurture this relationship.

CYC Arts and Innovation Coordinator Monica Wizgird said the youth are learning professional skills like collaboration, persistence, discipline, focus, and more through this partnership. The amount of planning and pre-visualization and follow-through involved in glass art creation is great practice for success in all sorts of future projects and endeavors.

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“The youth were pretty amazed at the level of teamwork and communication between the artists doing demonstrations in the hot shop,” Monica said. “When it became their turn to collaborate with the glass artists to create their paperweights, they were laser focused and incredibly attentive because they saw how vital teamwork and communication are in that type of environment.”

The children love working with the glass because it is a unique, and new experience for many of them.

“It was fun, exciting, and I've never seen anything like that before,” said Mikayla, 12. “I'd recommend it to other kids because it was awesome!”

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Monica said she has seen much joy, wonder, and growth in the youth involved in the partnership.

“Even though we can still accomplish a lot with classes at our Centers, the field trips are the best part of the program because when we're there, our youth can learn how to create amazing things in the hot shop while being in an interesting, state of the art space, surrounded by gorgeous glass artwork and cool people,” Monica said.