A year of local and global community service

Youth from CYC-Fellowship House on their Walk for Water.

Youth from CYC-Fellowship House on their Walk for Water.

This Spring, CYC kids attended WE Day, a star-studded concert at Allstate Arena. They had an amazing time seeing their favorite singers and celebrities like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Loud Luxury, but this wasn’t just any concert – it was their hard work that got them to the event.

WE Day is the culminating event of the WE Movement, which believes that when we come together we can create an even better world. Youth have the opportunity to create a community service project that impacts people either locally or globally.

Youth from CYC-Epstein at We Day.

Youth from CYC-Epstein at We Day.

Here are just a few of the amazing projects CYC youth organized:

  • At CYC-Fellowship House in Bridgeport, CYC youth put on an anti-bullying march, collected resources to support families in local women’s shelters, and put on the Walk for Water to provide clean water for families in Tanzania.

  • At CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center in Bronzeville, youth made no-sew pillowcases and sold them to raise money for a local homeless shelter and saved money from doing chores at home in piggy banks.

  • At CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center in North Lawndale, youth sold reusable grocery bags for a youth center in Kenya, helped serve Thanksgiving dinner at a local church, and made holiday cards for veterans.

We are so proud of the work our youth put in to help communities both locally and globally!

Peace Makers elevate their voices

At the beginning of June, CYC youth participated in Bright Promises Foundation’s Elevating Youth Voices Fair, a free community event designed to amplify the voices of youth leaders across Chicago.

The children, from CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center in North Lawndale, presented on their club, “The Peace Makers.”

Marissa, a CYC student, explains the Peace makers’ mission to an attendee at the Fair.

Marissa, a CYC student, explains the Peace makers’ mission to an attendee at the Fair.

The Peace Makers use technology from the CYC Maker Lab and STEAM principles to spread messages of peace. For them, this might mean recording podcasts and creating stickers or even using a community garden to share healthy foods.

The Peace makers pose for a photo.

The Peace makers pose for a photo.

The youth are particularly inspired by superheroes who use technology to create change. At the Fair, the children were able to share their mission and objectives with more than 20 other Chicago organizations and community members. The event gave the children, who were among the younger presenters there, an opportunity to practice their public speaking skills and gain interviewing experience.

“The event gave them a chance to see how other kids just like them, or a little older, are making differences in their community,” said Chelsea Smith, a CYC staff member at the event.

We are so grateful to the Bright Promises Foundation for supporting Chicago Youth Centers as a grantee, and for providing these special chances for CYC kids to personally share their messages of non-violence and peace.

The power of parenting

CYC parents got the red carpet treatment at CYC’s first parent recognition ceremony, the Power of Parenting, held at CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center at the end of May.

Constance, a CYC parent, received recognition at the event.

Constance, a CYC parent, received recognition at the event.

Anjel Williams, the Administrative Assistant at the Center, said the event was for parents at all CYC Centers who have attended CYC’s scheduled parent outings and have completed eight Changing Children’s Worlds workshops.

From each blended site, parents were chosen to represent the following categories: “Care for Real,” “Push Forward,” “Attitude Matters,” “Own It,” and “Rookie of the Year.”

Curtis Peace, the Executive Director of the Illinois Afterschool Network, gave a talk to parents about the power parenting has on children’s development. After he spoke, parents took turns talking about what makes them good parents and lifting each other up.

“I’m the best parent because I didn’t give up,” said one parent.

Another said, “I’m the best parent because I speak up for my child.”

Anjel said the parents were very excited, and nearly all parents showed up for the event.

“Events like these make parents want to volunteer more, and gives parents reasons to be more involved,” she said.

Constance, a CYC parent, agreed.

“I felt that the parent recognition ceremony was a great way to recognize parents,” Constance said. “I was happy to be appreciated for what I was doing. This type of recognition pushes me to continue to support and show up.”

Making the future of fashion

CYC youth and families saw the future of fashion through the eyes of several creative CYC students at a fashion show at CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center in mid-May. The event was held in partnership with Remake Learning Days Chi.

A CYC student walks down the runway in her design.

A CYC student walks down the runway in her design.

Thanks to generous funding provided by Cognizant last spring, CYC has been training the next generation of designers and free thinkers through our “Making the Future of Fashion” program at the Center. For a full year, 15 CYC students have been learning how to brainstorm fresh fashion ideas, plan out the execution process, and use technology to bring their designs to life.

First the students gained a base understanding of colors. Then, they start expanding their horizons on how to work with “wearables” like jewelry, dresses, pants, shoes, etc.

Omari, a CYC student, walks down the runway in a shirt that he created in the CYC Maker Lab.

Omari, a CYC student, walks down the runway in a shirt that he created in the CYC Maker Lab.

“It’s a very powerful club to facilitate STEAM teaching and learning,” said Steven Willis, CYC STEM Manager, who led the program. “I’ve seen students develop interests and work ethics. I’ve seen a growth in their ability to communicate their desires to create in the Maker Lab. I’ve seen collaboration as they work together to solve problems.”

Youth used the Maker Lab’s 3D printer to create jewelry and learned how to work sewing machines. Some students even learned how to recreate popular branding on their clothes and used acrylic paint to produce their own shoe creations.

Omari, 15, made three shirts and a pair of shoes for the fashion show. He said he was inspired by his favorite YouTube channel and his “competitive spirit.” Dymin, 9, drew inspiration from her favorite color to make her own unique blue dress for the show.

Leading up to the big fashion show in May, which featured a runway, lights, and a DJ from the Center’s music program, the students were determined to impress the audience with the effort they had put in throughout the year. Community members came to watch them strut their designs.

“It’s important for young people to realize that their creations and creativity and voice are significant and celebrated by their community of peers and adults,” said Steven.

Meet Lorenzo: Caring gardener and future police officer


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


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.