Community Collaboration Empowers Chicago Youth
“It’s incredibly powerful to watch kids in our programs as they discover they have it within themselves to shape their own lives and make a difference in their own communities. This isn’t a job. This is my life mission.”
~ Michel Quezada, Manager of Family & Community Engagement, Children’s Home & Aid
Michel Quezada is excited to create more opportunities for young people in Chicago. A longstanding partnership with All Things Through Christ Outreach Ministries (ATTCOM), a West Englewood non-profit organization focused on youth success, community outreach and crisis support, demonstrates what Michel, her team and key partners can do with newly allocated Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) federal grant dollars.
Michel, manager of Family & Community Engagement at Children’s Home & Aid, oversees our youth programming in greater Chicago and is the driving force behind many of our engagement efforts, including the development of our partnership with ATTCOM. This community-centered collaboration kicked off in 2018 during our work with One Summer Chicago, an annual city-wide initiative that links youth and young adults with over 20,000 employment and internship opportunities.
Rev. Gwen has dedicated time to guide participants from multiple youth services programs at Children’s Home & Aid: R.I.S.E (Restoring Individuals through Supportive Environments), MMI (Mayors Mentoring Initiative) and CYSC (Chicago Youth Service Corps). Her guidance has provided an opportunity for youth to gain work experience, enhance their leadership abilities and serve their community. From working in the ATTCOM food pantry, to beautifying the community garden and developing a comprehensive summer programming curriculum, we are witnessing the growth within participants who are provided opportunities through meaningful collaborations in the community.
“ATTCOM didn’t have programs for young men…We have a garden at the church….[so] when Children’s Home & Aid approached us about placing young men in jobs outside, I said, ‘Let’s do it!'”
~ Reverend Gwen Sampson, Director of Operations, All Things Through Christ Outreach Ministry
“We are rooted in where we work and are thankful for collaborations like the one with ATTCOM,” reflects Michel Quezada. “Together, we’re connecting the dots between services to create more opportunities for kids to learn, grow, and give back to their communities. This is how change begins.”
Now, with IDHS funding via its Illinois Youth Investment Program (IYIP), Michel and her team have launched the first, fully comprehensive workforce development program for youth at Children’s Home & Aid. This new opportunity has allowed us to deepen our connection with longstanding community partners and support more youth as they gain practical, paid, on-the-job experience, bond with other kids their age, and learn new skills and career insights along the way.
“I love putting a smile on people’s faces, especially my people [in the community]. Doors are opening. My plan at first was to get a job so I wasn’t just doing nothing. But the people I work with, I’m starting to like it. The other day I had a conversation with one of the staff. I got a lot of knowledge from it. I needed that talk.”
~ Jay, IYIP participant
Michael Barajas, one of Children’s Home & Aid’s IYIP case managers, mentors and coaches the five youth in our program who are currently building work experience at ATTCOM. Through IYIP, Michael and other coaches focus on nurturing relationships with youth by acknowledging the reality of their day-to-day lives and creating holistic solutions by addressing basic needs – like transportation and healthcare. Adaptive approaches are tailored for each individual participant.
“I tell the guys I work with in the program to just pass the information along. Tell your friends, tell anybody who might qualify, to reach out and learn about resources. We want to get people involved and active.”
~ Michael Barajas, IYIP case manager, Children’s Home & Aid
We’re providing more opportunities for youth through intentional collaborations like the one with ATTCOM and removing barriers that make it difficult for communities to thrive. Guided by the voices of families, and with our partners, volunteers, and supporters by our side, we are working to achieve a shared vision of a more equitable future that focuses on family and community well-being.
“We’re always looking for people willing to partner with us to mentor youth and place them in their businesses for job experience,” Michel Quezada said. “By working with members of the community like Rev. Gwen, who are willing to do whatever it takes to improve the lives of families in our neighborhood, we can break some of the barriers that prevent these brilliant young men and women from excelling.”
Read our Blueprint for Impact: Living Our Values to learn how our evolution as an organization has informed our mission and vision through the years and drives our aspiration to see every child, every family and every community thriving.