By Wendi Kromash of the Evanston Review
On Oct. 4, approximately 60 people from nine youth-service non-profit organizations in Evanston gathered in the gym of the Levy Senior Center to meet one another, talk about their respective organizations, and start building connections as colleagues.
Sponsored by Evanston Cradle to Career, the meeting was spearheaded by the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, one of the organizations included in what is referred to as the “Collective.”
The purpose behind the Collective is to work towards designing an accessible, culturally attuned and responsive safety net for young people and their families.
In addition to the Moran Center, the Collective is composed of the following organizations whose primary focus is youth and families: the City of Evanston’s Youth & Young Adult Division, Connections for the Homeless, Erie Family Health Centers, Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, Curt’s Café, PEER Services, Youth Job Center (YJC) and Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.).
The Collective’s overarching goal is to make sure all Evanston youth are on a trajectory to success by age 23. It is a daunting task.
Currently barely 50% of students entering kindergarten in District 65 are considered kindergarten-ready.
The early October meeting allowed the people who are the hearts and souls of the agencies – the case workers and case managers, administrators, attorneys, counselors, career advisors, community engagement specialists, social workers and outreach workers – to share stories and understand common challenges.
After introductory remarks by Patrick Keenan-Devlin, Executive Director of the Moran Center, a representative of each organization presented a summary of their purpose, their clients and their services.
Nathan Norman of the City Youth and Young Adult Division spoke about the importance of education and how the division “engages youth in Districts 65 and 202 with whatever help they need.”
Staff from the division organize the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, apprenticeship programs and mentorships to foster civic engagement and workforce development. The Summer Youth Employment program provided more than 600 jobs in 2019, compared to 100 jobs in 2012.
Basic needs like housing and health care require specific services. Seprina Redmond of Connections spoke about the importance of providing stable housing for transitional aged youth – those from 18 to 24 years old – and families.
Connections’ programs focus on preventing homelessness, advocating for more affordable housing and providing overnight shelter and drop-in services.
Alberta Ortega of Erie Family spoke about the wide range of health care and preventive services the center provides, including much-needed dental services for youth and adults, often at very reduced cost.
For those individuals struggling with substance abuse, PEER Services offers comprehensive drug treatment programs for teens and adults.
Very young children are the most vulnerable population. Infant Welfare Society of Evanston has provided Early Head Start services since 1997.
Pamela Staples, one of the Site Directors there, described the day care services available for children from 5 weeks to 5 years of age. Infant Welfare also helps teen parents stay in school.
Ms. Staples emphasized the organization’s dedication to “helping children thrive, servicing families, getting kids school-ready, and insuring social and emotional stability.”
Mary Beth Schroeder, representing Evanston Community Foundation, spoke about the importance of early childhood services and its effect on the entire community.
Curt’s Café offers work skills and life-skills training for at-risk youth ages 15-24.
The Moran Center offers assistance with record expungement and record sealing, if appropriate, to help remove one of the barriers to employment.
Ivan Ramos of Youth Job Center described the services available for youth ages 16-24 including work-readiness training, apprenticeships, internships, mentorships and employment.
Melody Rose of Y.O.U. described the after-school care, academic support and tutoring they provide to students and the parental and family support they provide through Family Engagement Programming.
After splitting into eight clusters, the group re-united to learn some relaxation techniques. The day concluded with an indoor barbecue, but not before the group pledged to meet more frequently, identify gaps in service and strengthen the connections with these new colleagues. As one speaker commented, “Healthy communities need strong social service networks in order to thrive.”