On February 3, 2016, the children, families, communities, staff, and Board of Chicago Youth Centers (CYC) lost our co-founder and most passionate champion, Sidney Epstein. The passing of Sid is without a doubt a deep and profound loss, both for those who knew him closely and for everyone whose lives were enriched by his 60 years of service to CYC. Sid’s presence touched every part of our organization. Now there is, and always will be, a huge void in our Board room, our Centers, at our events, and in day-to-day life at CYC.
While his passing is a truly sad moment in our history, it is also a time to be grateful for this extraordinary man’s presence in the life of CYC, in our city, and in all the lives he touched. He made such a significant difference, in both large and small ways during his nearly 93 years on this earth. While we mourn his loss, our hearts remain joyful knowing what an impact he made. We should be so grateful to have made him proud: every time we achieved a milestone, made a child smile, changed a life, sent a kid to college or camp, we honored the mission of the organization he founded with Elliott Donnelley in 1956.
Sid’s was a life of purpose and passion. The true blessing for CYC is that for 60 years he remained actively engaged in our work as a Board member, fundraiser, and our biggest fan and champion. For 60 years, Sid focused his energy, effort, and time on CYC and our kids.
Sid believed that there is no work more important than creating a pathway to success for our most vulnerable children. He proved his commitment to that belief in 1956, when he fought to save a youth club in North Lawndale that was on the brink of failure. Sid became determined to keep the club’s doors open and its children cared for, and along with Elliott, he founded Chicago Youth Centers and created a thriving, innovative space for children to experience their possibility and promise. Thousands of children have graduated from high school, attended college, found their passion, and launched successful careers because two men of bold and audacious vision and steadfast commitment said, “We can make a difference."
We all have a myriad of memories of Sid. Upon hearing of his passing, so many current and former Board members, staff, and community leaders shared their strong feelings of respect and admiration for him and the ways he inspired them and was an example for them. We also have warm, deeply personal and heartfelt memories of him. What we remember most is the pure joy he expressed when he shared or heard the stories of the thousands of children whose lives CYC transformed.
There are many things we know with certainty about Sid Epstein: that he deeply loved his family; that he loved and cherished his friends and held them close to his heart; and that he loved this city and dedicated so many parts of his life to making it a wonderful place and a place of opportunity and possibility for all its children. When it came to CYC, it was consistently about these children and families whose lives we touch. When thinking about Sid in this moment, Bob Dylan’s song Forever Young comes to mind. We believe those lyrics contain Sid’s heartfelt wish for any child transformed and nurtured by Chicago Youth Centers:
May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others and let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung
May you stay forever young…
May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong
And may you stay forever young
Thank you, Sid, for gracing this world with your presence. Your legacy will live on and on, and we won’t let you down.