Chicago Youth Centers Annual Fundraiser Review – Celebrating Chicago Change - Makers!

Chicago Youth Centers (CYC)

Since 1956, Chicago Youth Centers (CYC) have been delivering powerful programs that can turn dreams into reality. The CYC works with children early in life and continues supporting them as they grow. They provide alternatives to gangs and violence and is instrumental in giving access to educational opportunities that may not exist in their schools as well as networks that help them plan for college and a career. There are currently seven Chicago Youth Centers which are located in Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, South Shore and Riverdale. There are various academic and sports programs which help increase literacy and teach team building skills. The programs also give parents the opportunity to participate in a variety of family education programs that strengthen their ability to provide a nurturing support system as well as becoming an advocate for their children. The CYC founders imagined these programs to be a place where every child can recognize and experience their full potential.

Thursday evening’s benefit took place at the beautiful Standard Club in Chicago. During the reception, attendees had the opportunity to engage with some of the youth who represented the CYC in their community. I had the opportunity to speak to a few of the participants from The Crown Commanders Robotics Team of the Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center in the South Shore neighborhood, Arts & Innovation Program of the Fellowship House located in Bridgeport, and the CYC Tinker Belles

TheMaster of Ceremony was Rosa Flores of CNN. Open remarks were given by Daniel Feeney, CYC Board Chair. Honorary Chair & Presenting Sponsor Remarks were given by Edward Wehmer, Found, President and CEO of Wintrust. The first honoree for the evening was Lydia Diaz, who received The Epstein-Donnelley Spirit of Youth Award. Ms. Diaz is a Chicago Youth Center (CYC) Alumni as well as a CYC parent. Lydia grew up in public housing and attended CYC from the age of 6 years old. She enrolled her children in the program so they too could experience the transformative education she had as a child. Lydia is dedicated to giving back to her community.

The second recipient of the evening was 18-year-old Maleek Willis of North Lawndale who received the $10,000 Epstein Scholarship. Maleek’s inspiring and heartfelt message brought tears to my eyes as he spoke of his past challenges. He said that he went through a period of time where he got caught up with the wrong crowd, but thanks to the Chicago Youth Centers he realized his potential. Maleek credits CYC for redirecting his path and increasing his self-esteem. He feels that it is a blessing to make it and beat the odds. Maleek will be attending Florida Memorial University this fall.


The Rivers Casino provided two $5,000 scholarships to CYC students who will begin college this fall. One scholarship was given to Briannda Edwards who attends CYC’s Sidney Epstein Youth Center in North Lawndale. She will begin coursework in nursing at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame. The other recipient was Vera Bonner, who attends CYC’s 21st Century Learning Program at the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, where she is valedictorian. She plans to attend Clark - Atlanta University. Rivers Casino also awarded $5,000 dollar scholarships to former Epstein Scholarship winners who are continuing their college education. The two recipients are Eddie Curtis and Jakarra Jenkins.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Honorable Kimberly M. Foxx, the first African – American woman to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. Mrs. Foxx took office on December 1, 2016, with a vision to transform the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office into a fairer and more forward-thinking agency. Kimberly Foxx is no stranger to the conditions in which affect the children who attend these programs. She too is CYC Alumni, so she knows first-hand the challenges that many of them face. Growing up poor in the projects of Cabrini Green to a single teenaged mother, Kim faced many obstacles. With hard work, focus and dedication Mrs. Foxx and her brother both excelled and found a way out of the circumstances in which they had no control. As far as she is concerned, when people use term "Beating the Odds", it means you are expected to fail. For Mrs. Foxx, failure was not an option. She credits her success and who she is today, because of the experiences she has lived. Kimberly Foxx is a shining example of the impact that the Chicago Youth Centers have on the youth and the possibilities of what can be achieved.

The CYC provides a pathway out of poverty and violence for more than 2,000 children and their families each year and gives youth the tools, resources, and experiences needed to reach their full potential. Thanks to Wintrust and all of the other generous sponsors, these children now have opportunities that may otherwise not have been afforded to them. To find out what you can do to help keep the dreams of these children alive, visit the CYC website at the chicagoyouthcenters website

 

Photos by Greg Inda

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