Afternoons by the lake and hanging out with friends are what make some kids’ summers. For others, specifically youth living in Chicago’s south and west sides, summer in the city can be a very different experience.  Violence, and gang activity riddle the streets in many neighborhoods, making it impossible for some to walk down the block and enjoy a warm summer day. Children that should be enjoying a good summer read like “The Time Machine” or “Noonie’s Masterpiece” may not have access to a library or the resources to get to a library. So, how do we protect our future generation from the violent streets and provide them with the opportunity they need?
One program, The Summer of Service and Leadership (SOSL), is tackling some of these difficult issues facing many of Chicago’s youth. SOSL is a four week program designed to educate and empower incoming 9th grade students to become active members of their school community. The transition into high school is one of the toughest in a students’ academic and social life; the dropout rate of youth in this age group is the highest of any age group. 
Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education said, “When our children are struggling and they need to learn more, the most important thing we can do is spend time working with them.” SOSL is an answer to that call.  Starting with a tour of their new school, the incoming freshmen participate in classes focused on leadership development, team building, and community issues. Once a week, the students get outside of the classroom to complete a service project in their community. “[Summer of Service and Leadership] provides a creative outlet for students, with academic and personal enrichment”, Duncan went on to say. 
Students involved in successful service-learning programming, like that of the SOSL, are more likely to stay in school, do better academically and develop a personal and social responsibility. Students who participate in SOSL express continued interest in their school community and many continue on to become student leaders. The program also helps bond campus and community which promotes pride and interest within the school community at large.
How can you get involved?

Chicago Cares has partnered with area high schools and several community partners to provide this service learning experience for Chicago’s youth. The SOSL program may only be four weeks in the summer, but as a Youth in Service leader you can provide ongoing mentorship and leadership year round.   If you have a passion for working with youth and want to educate, engager, and empower them to be a leader through service, then complete the Youth in Service Leadership application. You can be a role model in the life of a teen and foster the idea of volunteerism and community activism. For more information on becoming a Youth in Service Leader visit the webpage.

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