Smiling student next to poster listing Youth Guidance programs
Youth Guidance Sets Underserved Youth on a Pathway to Success

Youth Guidance is using many tools to strengthen underserved youth in the Chicago area, so they will graduate and succeed in life, beyond graduation. But at the heart of it all is mentoring and counseling, and helping parents to become actively engaged with their children’s schools. We felt confident in awarding Youth Guidance one of our small grants, because they have a winning formula: one that works.

And backing a winner always makes sense.

We went to Director of Marketing and Communications Veronica Resa to find out more about the work of Youth Guidance:

Kars4Kids: Tell us about the population you serve.

Veronica Resa: Youth Guidance, founded in 1924, serves young people in Chicago who are growing up in some of the country’s most under-resourced communities. We provide them with the social-emotional and life skills they need to meet and overcome the challenges in their life – supporting them throughout their journey and ensuring that they are on a pathway to success beyond high school. Over the last year, we served over 13,700 students throughout Chicago.

Kars4Kids: What is BAM®? Why is this program necessary?

Veronica Resa: Becoming A Man® (BAM) is a group counseling and mentoring intervention that targets young men in 7th -12th grade who have risk factors for dropout, delinquency, or poor school performance. With the support of their BAM counselor, students utilize a two-year curriculum that is aligned with six core values: integrity; accountability; visionary goal-setting; respect for womanhood; positive anger expression; and self-determination. BAM has been externally evaluated several times by the University of Chicago Urban Lab, which found that BAM participants experienced a 50% reduction in violent crime, a 35% reduction in overall arrests, and a 19% increase in graduation rates. BAM currently serves about 7,000 young men in Chicago and two years ago expanded to Boston. The program is also offered in L.A. County and the Seattle area.

Working On WomanhoodSM (WOW) was developed in 2011 as a counterpart to BAM for young women who are experiencing trauma due to the challenging nature of their communities. WOW also follows a group counseling and mentoring model and is completing its first formal evaluation through the University of Chicago, which has shown proven benefits in reducing levels of trauma, depression, and social anxiety. Currently, WOW serves more than 2,500 young women in 40 Chicago schools with plans to keep expanding. “WOW is a dynamic counseling and mentoring program that helps young women heal from trauma, realize their potential, and know they are enough,” said Director of WOW Gail Day.

Kars4Kids: What is STRIVE?

Veronica Resa: STRIVE addresses the unique challenges of young people who are in the care of the state of Illinois. Through STRIVE, Youth Guidance matches students with counselors who work with them and their caregivers individually to ensure that they are successful in school and have the resources they need beyond high school graduation. STRIVE is the result of a partnership between Youth Guidance and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

Kars4Kids: How many children receive your school-based counseling services? What sort of issues are they dealing with?

Veronica Resa: Youth Guidance’s program delivery model is counseling-based across all its program areas. Each area (Counseling and Prevention, Community and After School Programs, and Youth Workforce Development) includes a counseling component that is designed to help students increase their developmental skills related to collaboration, time management, coping with adversity, and communication. These are all skills critical to having healthy relationships in school, within families, and in communities.

Smiling student next to poster listing Youth Guidance programs

Kars4Kids: What sort of life skills do participants learn in your Youth Workforce Development program?

Veronica Resa: Youth Guidance’s Youth Workforce Development program targets young people who are in high school (Project Prepare) as well as those students who are post-graduation (Project Prepare Blue). Both programs provide participants with job readiness and career exploration workshops; transferrable 21st Century job skills; and linkages to colleges and career opportunities. Programs are led by career specialists who work individually with youth to help them meet their goals.

Youth Workforce Development staff also partner with BAM and WOW on the @Work model, a specially-designed job readiness curriculum that blends core values from BAM and WOW with a year-long series of workshops that support job readiness skills and career exposure. Youth participate in group lessons at school and attend events with corporate partners to practice skills, network, and get connected to jobs and internships.

Kars4Kids: What is CAP? Why is this program necessary?

Veronica Resa: Youth Guidance is a leader in the community schools model of programming, which sees schools as hubs that can positively impact entire families and neighborhoods. The agency’s Community and After Schools Program offers after school enrichment programs to elementary and high schools in Chicago, as well as parent training and resources for family members. Students have access to year-round homework help and instructional support, STEM and cultural arts enrichment activities, and counseling-based supports to develop life skills. CAP serves more than 2,400 students in 17 Chicago public schools.

Youth Guidance event

Kars4Kids: What are you doing to encourage family engagement? Why are parent and family engagement important to school children?

Veronica Resa: The community schools model sees parents as equal partners in the school community. Parent and family engagement provides parents and family members with the skills they need to take on effective leadership roles within schools and be a positive advocate for their children. In addition, parent and family engagement hosts parent-focused events and activities that motivate parents to become more involved in the school community and engaged with teachers and administrators. This in turn strengthens the entire school community and contributes to the school’s role as a vital asset within the neighborhood. Youth Guidance has also hosted a parent leadership conference for 26 years which attracts parents and school staff from across the city for a weekend of learning, collaboration, and advocacy.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Youth Guidance?

Veronica Resa: Youth Guidance has grown tremendously within the last five years. Due to heavy demand, we have expanded the BAM program to three new locations and are also quickly expanding within the Chicago area. This is an expansion that has been strategically planned to ensure programs are offered with fidelity to the original models and continue to be of the highest quality. Ultimately, we want to ensure that any students in need of our resources have access to them and we will continue to work with our staff, board, and supporters to grow Youth Guidance programs in a way that will continue our history of success.