Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative provides foster youth, ‘self sufficiency’ and ‘self love’

Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative provides foster youth, ‘self sufficiency’ and ‘self love’

Since 2014 Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative (CYOI), a Chicago based non-profit organization, has provided youth in foster care with tools to achieve their chosen career paths and become self reliant adults. Brittiney Jones, Executive Director of CYOI, started the organization after realizing a lack of resources was available for Chicago youth who were not emotionally or financially supported by their birth parents. “There was not only limited funding for foster youth,” Jones explained. “But also there is a growing number of youth that are identified to be youth in care or homeless.” Jones said that her own life circumstances and experiences with similar challenges motivated her to launch CYOI.

According to The Illinois Department of Children & Family Services, a “Youth in Care” is defined as a child or youth that “The DCFS Guardianship Administrator has been awarded either temporary or permanent legal custody (wards), and have been placed by DCFS in Emergency Reception Centers (ERC, formerly known as shelters), with a foster parent, relative caregiver, in a residential facility or in a Youth Transitional Living Program.”

CYOI Co-Founder and Director of Youth Development, Alayna Washington partnered with Jones soon after the organization began its mission to empower foster youth in Chicago. Washington leads a team to help expand the curriculum and she is a spokesperson for the organization. She said CYOI provides academic mentorship, emotional support and assistance to foster youth to help them pursue their career goals.  

In Youth Development sessions, CYOI provides youth the opportunity to reflect on positive and negative feelings they may be experiencing about their personal or academic pursuits. “That is our way of having a community conversation about things they would like to change or be changed,” Washington said. CYOI also assists youth in achieving their personal and academic goals by encouraging them to set specific goals they are responsible for achieving throughout the year. ”This year a lot of our students had goals to improve in their math classes,” Washington said. “A third of them increased their grades from a “D” to a “B” average”. Washington said CYOI is vital for foster youth in Chicago because some youth may exhibit negative behavior without frequent mentorship from positive role models.

Keishona Morris, who became a mentee in CYOI at age 14, said the organization helped her to secure an internship in engineering. She said her ideal career field is robotic and mechanical engineering. Morris explained that CYOI has prepared her for success in job interviewing and what clothing choices are acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace. CYOI also helped her to understand the job description for the engineering roles she is interested in pursuing. ”I would never have had a chance to improve my life without CYOI,” she said.

 

Call to Action:

Chicago street performers bring the music to people and people together

Chicago street performers bring the music to people and people together

Chicago street and transit performers lift the spirits of  commuters through song, dance and instrumental performances to create a relaxing atmosphere in some of the busiest areas of Chicago.

David Russell of the  Red Line Lounge Band and street performer and guitar player, Ian Walsh of the Chicago Traffic Jam band  “bring the music to the people” as commuters rush to subway trains to seek refuge from the noisy streets, traffic jams and their 9 to 5 jobs. Russell is just one of many street performers who travel downtown to amuse and entertain Chicagoans and tourist.

For decades street performers have graced the subway platforms and streets and the public exposure has given birth to legendary entertainers such as Bernie Mac. Mental Floss reported that one of the “Original Kings of Comedy” Bernie Mac was telling joes throughout the South Side of Chicago before he became a notable comedian and his acting career began.

 

Drummer said CTA performance is a ‘ministry’                                     

As a native Chicagoan, Russell, drummer of the Red Line Lounge Band aims to change the at times stressful demeanor of commuters in Chicago with his melodic and upbeat drumming pace to R&B classics such as “She’s Playing Hard To Get” by the American band popular in the mid 90’s, Hi-Five.

“I look forward to seeing the look on the people’s face when we are playing a particular song that brings back good memories,Russell said.“I look at it as a ministry because there are certain songs that move certain ways.”

Russell and his group have performed off and on for 20 years. He recalled an encounter with a lady having a bad day at the office who had heard a particular song the band was playing. “It just moved her to tears!” he said. He said her spirits were lifted through the music the band was playing.

The Red Line Lounge Band aims to change the mood in the atmosphere through their performances in Chicago’s loop ‘L’ stations. “When [people] come down here and hear good performing it’s almost like being in the club,” Russell said. “We have folk approaching us about gigs for their personal block parties, family reunions and wedding receptions.”

It’s not just the busy hard-working adults and students that Russell and his band connect with, Russell said he also bonds with the children he meets on the subway platforms. “I also let the kids play my drums from time to time and that just makes their day,” he said.

 

Guitarist said “Chicago Traffic Jam” brings people together

Guitar player and booking manager of Chicago Traffic Jam, Ian Walsh, said his group gives people the opportunity to socialize with others who they may not have otherwise spoken with during their commute throughout downtown Chicago or to other communities in the city. “There has been countless times where we have big crowds dancing,” he said. Walsh also said there are times where kids from families of different nationalities end up dancing or playing together as his band performs.

Rap artist and singer, Riel Jones said he finds comfort in performing as he wants to be a positive influence on the youth in Chicago. Jones had served five years in prison and he has been performing in the CTA subway for a couple of months. “Since I been home I changed my life, going to church and working and doing music,” he said.

Call to Action

  • Give Chicago street performers your support if possible, whether it’s by watching their performances or sharing a kind word. Many of them are trying to turn around their lives so they could use the encouragement!
  • Follow and support the Red Line Lounge Band and Chicago Traffic Jam on social media.
Janell Lewis went from teaching ‘teddy bears’ to teaching ‘teachers’

Janell Lewis went from teaching ‘teddy bears’ to teaching ‘teachers’

21st Century Charter School teacher, Janell Lewis fulfills ‘life purpose” teaching students and teachers to “Be Great!”

 

While dozens of teachers have abandoned their mission to educate youth in Gary, Indiana, one South Side Chicago native is challenging students and teachers to be great in a community that thousands of people have left. The birthplace of pop idol Michael Jackson is now a place where hundreds of youth cannot leave and who aren’t sure if anyone will ever know their names.  

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Spotlight for the youth that do good

Spotlight for the youth that do good

In November the execution of Tyshawn Lee, who was 9-years-old when he was murdered in an alley dominated local news publications. This senseless killing  broke many Chicagoans hearts.

Corey Morgan, 27-year-old documented gang member was charged with first degree murder of Tyshawn Lee. This assassin stole the media spotlight from individuals around Chicago who had chosen  to be constructive in their community rather than being destructive.

In November, the 16-year-old Chicagoan, Stephanie Booker, was awarded a prestigious national honor for academic excellence and community leadership received only a snap shot in local news publications.She is a student at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. She is also a student ambassador and participates in the Science Olympiad ABC 7 Chicago reported. 

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Spoken Word artist creates ‘place of peace’ with Solace Souls Sundays open mic

Spoken Word artist creates ‘place of peace’ with Solace Souls Sundays open mic

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“A Place of Peace in the Midst of Turmoil” is what one Chicago Spoken Word and Hip Hop artist has created in the Bridgeport Neighborhood at The Spoken WordMagazine & Lounge.

Jerode Rodgers, whose stage name is Jeronimo Speaks, gives Chicagoans a ‘place of peace’ with the open mic showcase, Solace Souls Sundays, which he hosts every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month.

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