Chicago Cares’ Youth-In-Service department is venturing outside of its usual one-time project model and trying some new and innovative ways of getting youth volunteers excited, educated, engaged, and empowered, through the new Student Service and Leadership program (SSL).  The youth involved become community conscious volunteer leaders.  Meeting once a week, after school, with a Chicago Cares facilitator and/or school representative, the youth are encouraged to research Chicago neighborhoods and find out what issues need to be addressed.  Then, they budget and plan for their own creative project from start to finish. The students will walk away from this experience with exceptional leadership, team building, and project development capabilities. This program will benefit the students in several ways, mobilizing them to become active citizens equipped with the tools to create change.

Youth-in-Service etched out the beginnings of this new model at Lorca Elementary & Amundsen High School school this past week for our first Student Service and Leadership kick-off.

At Lorca we met with about 30 enthusiastic youth volunteers and got to know one another over snacks and introductions (snacks are always an incentive for anyone to stay after their official work day is over). Most of the young leaders were 8th graders, some 7th, and a few 5th.  Since, they were from different grades and classrooms, we did some team building exercises focusing on name memorization, concentration, and teamwork. After this, the young leaders began to jot down their interpretations of the words leadership and service on two large posters. They read them aloud, discussed what they wanted to learn from the program in the coming months, and what issue areas they were most interested in. One student said, “I want to work with my Tia at the hospital, she helps kids who have leukemia.” Another student referenced to his classmate by saying, “I want to be like Candido because he is smart, nice, and everyone listens to him; I think he’s a good leader.”  These were the sentiments of most of the young boys and girl. They had great ideas for projects and who they thought exemplified leadership.  All of us, in the Youth-in-Service department, are very excited to see where these young people will lead us in the next five months; we have great expectations for them and will keep you posted on their progress in the coming weeks.

Our time at Amundsen was just as successful!  We met with a group of about 30 high school freshman interested in getting their required service learning hours taken care of through this after school program.  The group had some snacks and then played a few games.  The group also took time to try to decipher what Leadership and Service meant to them.  They pointed out some great leaders in their lives and our country and worked to break down what characteristics made them leaders.  They also took time to think about what it means to serve the community around them.

Both groups are off to a great start- we can’t wait to see what we’ll learn together in the coming months!