With over 30 Chicago Public School children killed this school year in incidents resulting in violence, ordinary people are doing extraordinary things and serving as a catalyst for change. From the South Suburbs, to Chatham to Englewood, unsung heroes are making a difference at the grass roots level in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
A small foundation doing big things in South Holland, Dolton and in Roseland, Tomorrow’s Youth Foundation works with 120 young people offering academic, athletic and mentorship programs.
Courtland Wilson, the foundation’s executive director said he tries to make sure extraordinary opportunities are available to children in the community. “There is a need for a youth program out here,” said Wilson. “We work with kids to give them an experience they are not exposed to, to prepare them for adulthood.” Pointing to the role sports play in developing teambuilding skills he said, “Some children look up more to their coaches than their fathers…we are here to mentor them and not to play around.”
Wilson, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a fatherless home, draws from his own experiences where he looked up to his coach. He uses that experience to help mentor others. While he works full-time, he does not underestimate the role of volunteers and the need for parent involvement. Running the foundation during his free time, he also finds time to volunteer for Habitat For Humanity.
While the foundation works with young adults all year long, last Saturday the Chatham Business Association (CBA) hosted a job fair preparation workshop for local youth at ICE Theaters at 210 W. 87th Street for students between the ages of 16 and 18. Students got help with finding jobs, writing resumes, researching companies and received tips on preparing for interviews. Julian, Hyde Park Career Academy and Harlan, were among the high schools that participated. On April 25, students who came out to the fair, will be eligible to attend a job fair hosted by Chatham Business Association Juniors, a partnership between the Department of College and Careers at Chicago Public Schools.
Working on Chicago’ South Side, Calvin Lane knows about job readiness and prepares young people for life in general. He helps students find employment at Robeson High School where he works as a student advocate on behalf of students challenged by behavioral issues. “At Robeson, most students see they can do more than hanging on the corner or working for McDonalds…what makes my day complete is to see students become college graduates,” he said.
Most of the families he sees live in Englewood and come from foster care or single-family homes. Lane, who came to Robeson as a youth intervention specialist, said, “We deal with the whole student…the home environment has a lot to do with overall behavior and accomplishments of every individual student.” A former activist, he advises students that the only person they have to be better than is the person they were yesterday.