The many sides of gardening


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.


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


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.


“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!”


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.

CYC kids go ‘off to great places’


CYC children and families went “off to great places” earlier this month!

Forty families gathered at CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center for a Dr. Seuss Family Literacy Day to celebrate both Dr. Seuss’s birthday and a love for reading.

Different stations, themed around various Dr. Seuss books, were set up around the Center. Children were able to play bingo for books, create craft projects like truffula trees, and even make oobleck as a science project. The best part? The Cat in the Hat himself made a special appearance.


CYC staff member Anjel Williams, who organized the event, said the day was one of the best family engagement events of the year. By holding a literacy event, Anjel said parents learn about the importance of reading comprehension and literacy.

“You need the whole family in order for the child to succeed,” Anjel said. “A child needs to see that there is a village invested in their success, and they need to see that they have their parents in their corner.”

Throughout the year, CYC holds various family engagement events to ensure that children develop healthy habits at home and build strong bonds with their families. The event was also an excellent opportunity for parents and kids to take a little break and spend quality time together.

“Parent involvement is important for kids to see that their parents care about what they are doing,” Anjel said.

Generational waves of change

Maurice poses on the Michigan State University campus.

Maurice poses on the Michigan State University campus.

Growing up on Chicago’s West Side, Maurice Walls decided early in his life that he will not be a negative statistic.

“I will be an individual who stands alone and can conquer the world,” he wrote in his winning essay for the Sidney Epstein Believe in Kids Award: a $5,000 college scholarship.

Maurice attended CYC-Epstein in North Lawndale from when he was 3 until he graduated from high school. He is now a freshman at Michigan State University, where he is studying pre-veterinary medicine.

As a first-generation college student, his academic journey began with CYC’s College and Career Readiness program. He started thinking and learning about college when he was still in middle school. Later on, he went on college trips with the Center and remained involved in the various clubs and mentoring programs available. Maurice graduated from high school with a 4.3 GPA.

“CYC’s CCR program played a role in me making the right decision because I had so long to think about college,” Maurice said. “I focused on doing well in high school so I could pick any school and have as many options as possible.”

For Maurice, coming to CYC felt like being with his second family.

“It kept me out of trouble,” he said. “It gave me something to do. It was a safe place for me to go after school. It was a safe place for my parents to know where I was, instead of getting sucked into the streets of Chicago doing the wrong things.”

Marissa gives her presentation about “Speak Your Peace.”

Marissa gives her presentation about “Speak Your Peace.”

Maurice’s little sister Marissa is still at CYC-Epstein, following her brother’s footsteps. Through the summer and fall, the 9-year-old worked on her project: "Speak Your Peace." She organized a Peace March and a Peace T-shirt design contest through CYC.

"It was about our community and making sure that people don't shoot people," Marissa said. "I learned that you can make a difference when you do one small thing."

Maurice and Marissa epitomize what can happen within a community with consistent support and mentors. We are so proud of their achievements!

Chicago Ideas: Community unity and repairing police relations

Community activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green discusses youth impact with CYC teens.

Community activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green discusses youth impact with CYC teens.

Repairing community and police relationships aren’t easy topics. But that’s exactly what a group of teens from CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center ignited a conversation about last month.

In August, the Center hosted a Chicago Ideas Day, a youth-led event that was an opportunity for the teens to engage in social awareness, use their voice for the overall welfare of their community, and interview local changemakers.

The teens worked for eight weeks to develop a social awareness program that focused on police relationships and community unity.

They tackled this through a community event coupled with an action event. The day was inspired by Chicago Ideas, a movement built on sharing ideas to transform the world.

Center Director Clarence Hogan said the teens picked the topic of community unity and police relations because they are concerned about what is happening in their community.

Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray talks with CYC about repairing

Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray talks with CYC about repairing

“They can notice some serious injustices and some things that don’t seem to be going on in other communities,” he said. “I think that they can be culture shocked by traveling to different neighborhoods.”

For the community conversation, the youth invited Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray to talk about repairing relationships between the police and the community. Community activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green was also present. He discussed community engagement and youth impact.

“I learned about the Black Lives Matter movement and how young people are involved in government and politics,” said Nateena, 16.

After the stimulating conversation, the youth participated in an action event by collaborating with Play Streets, which is an initiative that encourages healthier and stronger communities by creating safe and accessible residential play areas for kids to be active and to learn.

Next month, Chicago Ideas Week will be held Oct. 15-21. Hundreds of events across the city will push attendees to reconsider the limits of possibility. CYC teens will be attending several events to listen to speakers discuss the justice system and to also attend hands-on labs.