Justice League Meets Justice Challenge – Press Release



Evanston Community Foundation’s Partners for the Future Grant Supports Youth Justice

The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy (“Moran Center”) has successfully completed a“Partners for the Future” (PFF) challenge grant from the Evanston Community Foundation (“ECF”), receiving $100,000 in matching funds. The Moran Center publicly launched the “Justice Challenge” in January 2017, asking donors to join the “Justice League” by making a commitment to close the justice gap for kids in our community. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the Moran Center completed the terms of the matching challenge well in advance of the one-year deadline.

The Partners for the Future challenge grant is a donor-advised ECF initiative that invests in the capacity of high-performing Evanston non-profits ready to develop greater support. The challenge to the Moran Center was to raise new or increased gifts of $5,000 from individual donors; each qualified gift was then matched by ECF.

On November 1, 2017, the Moran Center hosted a celebratory luncheon at The Barn in Evanston. Executive Director, Patrick Keenan-Devlin shared with donors that the funds raised through the Partners for the Future challenge grant will go toward creating a school-based civil legal clinic, broadening access to mental health supports, and advocating for critical systemic reforms.

Moran Center Board Chair Betsy Lehman presented the Moran Center’s long-term vision of creating a “Restorative Justice” city in Evanston. “By creating safe and welcoming spaces, a sense of belonging for our youth, and advocating for community-based solutions, as opposed to pushing kids out of our schools and our community, we can restore trust, build respect, and enhance the social-emotional competencies of all Evanston residents, and most importantly, of some of our most vulnerable children and families.”

“The Partners for the Future challenge grant is intended to help organizations go to the next level in their ability to raise major gifts to realize their missions,” said Marybeth Schroeder, Vice President for Programs at ECF.  “The Moran Center board and staff did an incredible job inspiring both longtime donors and new supporters.  They’ve built a strong foundation for continued growth.”

“This challenge grant propels the Moran Center’s capacity to deliver our unique model of advocating for kids and their families by providing integrated legal representation and social work services. We are very grateful to the Evanston Community Foundation for providing us with this opportunity, and even more grateful to our ‘Justice Leaguers’ who generously supported our vision for building a more just, accessible, and supportive community for Evanston’s’ kids,” said Patrick Keenan-Devlin, Executive Director of the Moran Center.

The Moran Center’s Director of Strategic Partnerships Joi-Anissa Russell adds, “It is very compelling to offer our donors the chance to double their impact. Their generosity allows us to ‘go deeper’ in seeking equitable and just solutions for our clients.”

Photos by Rich Foreman Photography.

Directors’ Showcase: Jonathan Samuels Advocates for Local Youth

From a very early age, Jon Samuels witnessed his family’s commitment to the community.

“My parents never pushed politics but they were passionate through their work in the medical and mental health fields as well as their broader commitment to the community. They strongly believe in fairness and justice for everyone. That had a big impact on me.”

Samuels was a keen observer of electoral politics in high school and college, specifically the 1992 and 1996 Presidential campaigns. However, his true political awakening came when he took his first full-time campaign job in 1997 after meeting then congressional candidate Jan Schakowsky. At the time, Samuels was a program director with the McGaw YMCA where he was organizing expanded programming for the Justin Wynn Leadership Academy. He was part of a team that mentored a group of 5th-12th-grade students in leadership development activities and planned community service projects. The first student-led project was to march against gun violence.

“I was proud of the students for taking on such an important issue, but I expected a small crowd when we went to ETHS to kick off the march.”

“The students clearly tapped into something important to Evanston because nearly a thousand people showed up. The Evanston Police Department had to shut down Lake Street to traffic as we marched to a planned rally in Fountain Square.”

Samuels says he went to that march following the lead of his students. For him, it was a life changing event, as it was during that march that Jan Schakowsky introduced herself to Samuels and convinced him to go back to her campaign headquarters to meet her team. Reflecting on that day, Samuels said: “I had no idea that Jan would have such a profound impact on the trajectory of my life and career.  I will always count her as a member of my family.”

“It took about 3 seconds for me to realize that this person was so extraordinary that I had to recruit him to work on my campaign for Congress.” That’s when Congresswoman Schakowsky says she “kidnapped” Jon Samuels, grabbed his arm and brought him to her campaign office in the Rotary Building. She recaps that was one of the smartest moves of her life!

Samuels’ interest only grew when he moved to Washington D.C. in 1999 to work for Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky during her first four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“Jon then worked for me for eight years, and his skill, dedication, and effectiveness were apparent to all – eventually landing him in the White House serving as an invaluable Assistant to President Barack Obama. I was in the room when the President gave a big heartfelt farewell to Jon, extolling his virtues and accomplishments.”

Congresswoman Schakowsky said she was bursting with “motherly” pride and still is after 20 years. “For me, to meet Jon Samuels was to love him.”
Having been introduced to the Moran Center by current board member Adam Chiss, Samuels says, “It is an incredible honor to serve as a Board Member. I have been so thoroughly impressed with the staff, their commitment to youth in our community and their hard work and talent. It is humbling to serve alongside the other distinguished members of the board.”

Chiss feels just as humbled by Samuels and his commitment to service, “When considering prospective candidates to nominate to the Moran Center’s Board of Directors, I thought how lucky we’d be if we could successfully recruit Jon, knowing what a doer he is; knowing his passion for working towards progressive, inclusive public policies; knowing his talents in working with a range of diverse personalities and harnessing different viewpoints; and knowing he was moving back to his hometown of Evanston after nearly two decades in D.C. and was looking to get involved in a meaningful, impactful way.”     

Samuels believes that President Obama framed the importance of the Moran Center’s mission and the services it provides, as well as the need to reform our criminal justice system, best when he said:

“Justice is not only the absence of oppression-it is the presence of opportunity. Justice is making sure that every young person knows that they are special and their lives matter. Justice is living up to the common creed that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper. Justice and redemption go hand in hand.”

When asked what Samuels hoped that youth would gain in their involvement with Moran Center programs and services, Samuels shared thoughtfully, “This work is not just about the individuals it serves. Although helping young at-risk Evanston youth meet their potential is reason enough to support the Moran Center, our entire community benefits when we are able to help create better outcomes for our youth. I hope we are able to carry that message to an increasingly broader audience so that even more young people in Evanston (and beyond) and the broader community can benefit even more from the great work done by the Moran Center. The Moran Center is able to make an enormous impact with a relatively small amount of resources and the model is one that should be adopted elsewhere.”

Warehouse Concert for Cause

On July 15th, Taed Cejtin, an Evanston local, organized “Warehouse Concert for Cause” at Hammer & Pixel Studio – a videography studio on Custer Street owned by Taed’s father, Steve Cejtin. The concert – featuring six local performers with music ranging from hip-hop to blues to rap – benefited the Moran Center. Approximately 200 people attended, raising $1,500!

Warehouse performers included: Rub n’ AlcCub-J, Blake Rue, Swill, CJ the Kid 24, and Rebellious. Additional support was provided by VVR Apparel and images are courtesy of DualMind Visuals.

“The event was a huge success and I really enjoyed collaborating with everyone. We had a great turnout and people were very impressed by the talented musicians and the studio space,” Taed states. Born and raised in Evanston, Taed has always been proud of his community. “I recently graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in Civil engineering. My father actually inspired me to go into engineering and got me involved in music, particularly drumming, at a very young age.” While collaborating with his friend Adam Rubman (member of Rub n’ Alc), the two came up with the idea of an event with the dual purpose of showcasing local artists as well as supporting the Evanston community. Taed says, “We wanted to give back to something that we cared about and the Moran Center immediately came to mind.” In addition to organizing and emceeing the event, Taed played drums with Rub n’ Alc at the Warehouse Concert for Cause.

“Seeing young people who have experienced first-hand the challenges of navigating childhood to adulthood then reach out and help other youth in the community is really inspiring,” said Moran Center Executive Director Patrick Keenan-Devlin. “We need this kind of youth-led activism and leadership to invoke systemic change and create a more equitable community.”

Nathan Brieva sums up how he felt attending the event, “The overall enriching experience left a few hundred Evanston peers in awe of what can be accomplished as a group.”

Photos provided by Paul Elliot with DualMind Visuals.


Creating Trauma-Informed Space

June 9th was our annual Moran Center Clean Up Day. Fresh out of Trauma Workshops, we approached our Clean Up Day with an eye toward creating spaces in which our clients could feel safe. We freshened up our conference room, front office, and social work offices with a calming, warm paint color. We rearranged furniture to promote a sense of personal safety and privacy. We de-cluttered our work spaces to ensure a sense of order and respect. 

Of course, like all good things, we could not have accomplished all of this on our own. We were joined by a dedicated team of volunteers from Accuity. For the past three years, Accuity has supported our mission by providing clean-up volunteers, office furniture, graphic design services and IT support. We are lucky to have them as our friends and neighbors. 

Becoming a Trauma-Informed Community

How can we as a community stop punishing children who have lived punishing lives? Everyone – whether you are a teacher, counselor, coach, parent, classmate, school safety officer, police officer, lawyer, judge, or community member – can benefit from understanding that children who have experienced trauma have learned adaptive behaviors that are “normal” given their circumstances, but often times do not serve them well in school or in other settings. 

“Remembering Trauma” is a 16-minute film highlighting the life of a traumatized youth from his early childhood into older adolescence. The film illustrates the impact of complex trauma and the potential for misdiagnosis across various service systems.

This film was developed by the Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services, and Interventions (CCTASI) in collaboration with partners from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) and creator of the ReMoved film series, Nathanael Matanick.

NOTE: “Remembering Trauma” is inspired by a true story. It contains adult language and includes scenes with family violence and sexual assault, which may be upsetting to watch. It is strongly recommended that you view this film in the presence of a trusted adult that can offer support as needed.

The Invisible Backpack of Childhood Trauma

By Moran Center Executive Director Patrick Keenan-Devlin

Although the school year has just ended and many students have stashed their backpacks away for the summer, I have been thinking a lot about backpacks and what kids bring to school with them every day. I am not referring to books and school supplies. Rather, I am referring to the emotional challenges, distractions, anxieties, triggers, and mental health issues that many kids in our community carry with them every day as a result of experiencing childhood trauma. Imagine the weight of that on the small shoulders of a child!

Consider these startling statistics from SAMHSA:

  • 26% of children in the U.S. will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn four.
  • Young children exposed to five or more significant adverse experiences in the first three years of childhood face a 76% likelihood of having one or more delays in their language, emotional, or brain development.
  • Youth in detention have experienced an average of six traumatic experiences before detention.

If we can understand the impact of adverse childhood experiences and visualize the weightiness of living with chronic trauma, perhaps we can shift our thinking from, “Why is this child misbehaving? Why can’t they make better choices?” to thinking, “I wonder what experiences have informed this behavior? How can we create an environment that supports their social-emotional learning and allows them to reset their triggers?” 

The Moran Center staff, along with several board members, recently completed three custom workshops on the topic of providing trauma-informed care. These workshops provided a framework for us to apply to every aspect of our work — from our phone interactions, to our intake processes, to how we present cases in court, to how we counsel children and advise parents, and even to our physical office space. 

Thanks to a generous grant from the Evanston Community Foundation, we were able to tap the expertise of several thought leaders and practitioners in childhood trauma:

John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County:
Marjorie Fujara, Pediatrician and Chair, Division of Child Protective Services

Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Center for Childhood Resilience:
Colleen Cicchetti, Ph.D., Executive Director
Tara Hill, Ph.D., Psychologist
Claire Coyne, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology

Partnership for Resilience:
Thomas Lenz, Coordinator

Pictured to the left is me along with Moran Center Deputy Director Kristen Kennard, Colleen Cicchetti, Tom Lenz, and Tara Hill at our workshop hosted by Creative Spaces.

Read on to learn more about how trauma-informed justice changes everything by improving outcomes for children.

Providing Trauma-Informed Care

By Moran Center Deputy Director and Director of Social Work Services Kristen Kennard

In most cases, the first time the Moran Center lawyers and social workers interact with a child, it is after an incident that resulted in court involvement or school discipline. These first interactions often take place in a courthouse, jail or school office. At first glance, our staff may appear to be just another adult who is there to judge or punish them, or perhaps to help them but without truly understanding them. But we have learned to approach these initial interactions by demonstrating that we are interested not just in the incident that led to the “problem” but also in what happened in the days, weeks, and even years leading up to the incident. 

Just as many adults ask the question “why is this young person behaving this way?” or “what is wrong with this young person?”, the young person is usually asking themselves those same questions. By using a trauma-informed approach, the Moran Center has been able to help shift those questions in that young person’s mind by explaining that when someone experiences trauma their brain learns adaptive responses in order to help them deal with and survive in the situation they are in. While everyone’s responses may be different, all are adaptive and this is normal given the circumstance. Moran Center social workers have utilized this trauma-informed approach during therapy and it is clear the relief that is immediately felt by our clients. I observe their shoulders being tense and stiff in the beginning of this conversation and by the end of our session, their shoulders are slowly dropping and relaxed. I can see the sense of relief on their faces with a small smirk while a light bulb goes off in their head reassuring them that they are not bad or different. Their life experiences have caused these adaptive responses. Once this young person is able to recognize this, we can begin the real work of developing new responses that will improve how they feel about themselves and how they interact with others. 

While clients may spend the most time with their social workers, their interactions with their attorneys, is just as crucial. Following our team’s recent trauma trainings, I had a very lengthy meeting with one of our attorneys and a client. This meeting involved discussing some heavy material and talking through some really important decisions that could potentially change the rest of this client’s life. As I observed the interaction between our client and his attorney, I couldn’t help but notice the many different trauma-informed practices that the attorney was using. I watched our client who typically does not feel comfortable opening up to people be extremely open and vulnerable with his attorney. He presented relaxed and comfortable even though the conversation was not an easy one. Following this group meeting, our client confided in me that this meeting felt different to him. He really felt heard and understood by his attorney and he felt that his attorney was extremely patient with him. This resulted in the client feeling more confident in his attorney’s ability to advocate for him. Using a trauma-informed lens contributes to the client’s self-worth and is absolutely invaluable to the relationships we are working to build with our clients.

Understanding Childhood Trauma and ACEs

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse.

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

If a child has reactions that impact his/her daily life after a traumatic event, these responses are called child traumatic stress. These reactions may show up in different ways, such as changes in behavior (being irritable, withdrawn, or acting younger than his/her age), difficulties in interactions with others, problems or changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and/or school performance. 

When these stress symptoms develop, they happen automatically (i.e., are not in the child’s conscious control) as the child attempts to manage negative emotions (like fear) that emerge in response to memories of the event. The difficulties or stress symptoms can present immediately or show up later. They may also continue for days, weeks, or months after the traumatic experience and/or may resurface at different periods throughout a young person’s life. 

Learn more about childhood trauma and ACEs here and help us increase recognition that when children or young adults “act out” such actions likely stems from trauma. Childhood trauma is not an excuse for self-destructive behaviors, but an explanation which will hopefully prompt further calls for rehabilitation as opposed to punishment.  

Join Us For Justice!

The excitement is building as we approach the big event on May 11th. We hope you have already purchased your ticket and plan to join us as we come together to change trajectories by supporting justice for youth in our community. Kim Foxx, State’s Attorney for Cook County, will be our special guest and premium ticket purchases will include an intimate cocktail reception with Kim. Entertainment for the evening includes jazz, acoustic guitar from William Dillon, an exonerated felon who served 27 years for murder, and the eclectic hip-hop of Evanston-raised ProbCause. It will be a memorable evening that you will not want to miss!

See details and purchase your tickets here. Can’t attend? We will miss you but hope you will consider making a donation in support of youth justice.

There are also corporate sponsorship opportunities available. Join the Justice League – the superheroes of youth justice whose leadership and corporate citizenry restore hope for children and families and strengthen our community. 

Justice League Heros

  • Hagerty Consulting
  • Strategy Group

Justice League Super Friends

  • Northwestern University
  • Schiff Hardin
  • Vistria

Justice League Advocates

  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Stone Heritage Properties

In-Kind Donors

  • Hannah Handmade
  • KOVAL Distillery
  • Temperance Brewery
  • Musicians: Jim Tullio, Antoine Day, Eddie Lowery

Directors’ Showcase: Janet Alexander Davis, an “Evanston-made” Activist and Advocate

Janet Alexander Davis has been a loyal and active member of the Moran Center Board of Directors for nearly 10 years. Janet first met Judge Moran when he was serving on the Evanston City Council. She recalls that he was, “a staunch supporter of rights for youth, showing mercy and real justice.” A few years later, Janet was then introduced to the Moran Center (then named the Evanston Community Defender). Janet had seen first-hand the impact of incarceration on our community and immediately recognized the critical lifeline that the Moran Center could provide to youth by helping them stay in school and out of prison. “The Moran Center is crucial in helping troubled youth get the services they need to disrupt the school to prison pathway so many young people travel. My respect for the staff at the Moran Center is immense. These are not their children, but you wouldn’t know the difference seeing their level of engagement and the lengths to which they will go to help a client.”

Janet is truly “Evanston-made” and as much as the Moran Center is fortunate to have Janet on our board, the entire Evanston community is fortunate to have Janet as an engaged citizen. Janet describes Evanston as a vibrant city with an abundance of social services available and she encourages others to get involved and make a difference. “I believe service is at the core of my spirit and with that, a desire to work with others, accomplishing our work for the good of all. This path has led me to engage myself in myriad ways, always reaching for a higher level of engagement, service and personal growth… My time in Evanston has always been interwoven in activism, from childhood, and as I matured into adulthood, I did not slow down, did not sit down, but rather invested myself more fully into doing the right things in support of others.”

As a child of the 60’s, fighting for civil rights in our public schools, Janet continued and expanded her activism and built a strong network with many other Evanston activists. She became an advocate for youth and a mover and shaker for better education for children, especially those affected by poverty. Below are some of the various roles that Janet has had in making a difference for Evanston.

  • Citizens Greener Evanston – Environmental Justice Committee Member
  • Evanston Human Relations Commission — Board of Directors
  • Evanston United Neighbors — Board of Directors
  • Evanston Youth Initiative — Founding Member
  • Habitat for Humanity: The Evanston Project — Board of Directors
  • McGaw YMCA: Honoring the Emerson Street YMCA Committee
  • Shorefront Journal – Contributing Author
  • WEST – West Evanston Strategic Team — Founding Member, 5th Ward Newsletter Committee 
  • West End Area Block Club – Communications Management

Janet has also received several honors in recognition of her community activism:

  • West End Area Block Club, Hospitality Award 2008
  • Cook County 13th District Commission on Women’s Issues Awardee: Unsung Heroines 1996
  • Outstanding Citizen Award, 2016, Presented by the Yen Family’s Grand Re-Opening of the Evanston Holiday Inn