Interview with Board Member Charlie Pikul

Chicago-Youth-Centers-Miracle CYC honors Charlie Pikul, who dedicated his time and talent as a member of CYC's Board of Directors for five years. Charlie recently moved to Atlanta to start a new role with Ernst & Young. Before he left, we asked Charlie to describe his favorite CYC memories, his legacy, and his vision for our future.

What prompted you to spend so much of your time serving CYC? When I started, I really wanted to build my network. Yes, I wanted to help an organization with an important mission and a history of results, but when I first joined the Board, I had no idea how much CYC would come to mean to me. I didn’t realize how much I’d fall in love with the kids, the staff, the fellow Board members--and the mission.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited a CYC Center. The energy from the staff and the kids was just incredible. Especially because our staff isn’t watching the kids--our staff is with the kids. Every activity has a purpose, and every interaction is a chance to engage a child and help him or her develop CYC’s “Four C’s” [critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication]. That kind of commitment to our kids takes passion, it takes time, and that’s what sets CYC apart from other organizations. I don’t know how you can leave our Centers and not be excited about what we’re doing.

Do you have a favorite CYC memory? At CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center, I met a young girl, 4 or 5 years old, named Miracle. Miracle would not leave me alone! She sat on my shoulders for about an hour and a half, just talking to me about her summer, her plans, and her experiences.

Out of that came the reminder for me that any interaction you have with someone can make an impact. I know because, selfishly, that interaction with Miracle impacted me. I know, too, that when we listen to our kids and show them that we’re here, that we care about them, and are committed, that that makes a difference. They know they have people invested in their futures.

I want our Board members and volunteers to always remember that any time you go to our Centers, that brief moment of time can make a difference in a child’s life.

What was the single biggest thing you saw come out of the Board’s strategic planning? The Board came together and spent a full three-day weekend, essentially holed up, defining CYC’s strategic vision. We created a strategic house, with five pillars that support our mission and vision. (see figure below)

During that process, we made some tough decisions, but the planning resulted in a great strategy for the execution of our vision: that our children will be empowered to break generational cycles of poverty and violence.

Today we can say with confidence that all of our decisions are delivering on our commitment to our kids and families. I’m very proud to have been a part of that process.

Where do you see CYC in the future? I see us continuing to strengthen our commitment to our pillars. To become even more engaged in our communities, partnering with local alderman, churches, and community centers. To deepen our focus on the continuum of care so these great children have a chance to succeed. To expand our technology curriculum, and our Maker Labs to expose our children to the tech skills and applied skills they’ll need for 21st Century careers.

What do you want your legacy to be? To be known as someone who gave it all I had. Someone that gave of his time, talents, and treasure to help those who need it so much more. My legacy is also connected to the people I’ve brought to CYC. My organization Ernst & Young is now an active supporter of CYC, sponsoring an annual EY Connect Day that brings Summer Associates to a Center for a day of service.

You think as a Board Member you can only have an impact by providing funding, but you can have a huge impact by simply introducing people to CYC’s mission. If you’re excited, that energy is contagious.

In fact, my biggest advice to Board members, is to get involved immediately. Get out to our Centers, get to know our staff, get involved. Don’t underestimate your network and, and don’t underestimate the joy you can bring people by introducing them to CYC.

Thank you, Charlie, for the impact you've made on Chicago's kids!

Strategic House (1)