After spending time with the wrong crowd, Briana* found herself mixed up with drugs and alcohol, pressured by those she called friends. Though she did not like drugs, Briana was afraid of loosing her “friends” and often used drugs to please them.

Briana decided she needed a change, and chose to seek help from Youth Outreach Services (YOS). Her counselor soon discovered that Briana also suffered from depression, and immediately developed a safety plan for her.

Since Briana was an aggressive individual, she wanted to show the world that she was not scared. As a result, Briana would get in alterations both in and out of school. She also had a distant relationship with family and did not communicate with them about her feelings, instead locking herself in a room and bottling up her emotions or taking her anger out on her little sister.

Despite Briana’s struggles, she was always willing to participate in activities at YOS, including her individual counseling sessions, often times learning ways to apply tools she was given into her daily life. After two years at YOS, Briana has made an incredible transformation in her life.

She has made tremendous progress in communicating with her mother, who she now says is her best friend, always there to tell her right from wrong. In addition, as a sophomore atMortonEastHigh School, she recently joined the wrestling team, her grades are improving and she has a positive view in life.

Briana has been drug-free for more than one year. As an outspoken, intelligent young woman who achieves what she sets her mind to, Briana is a powerful example to her peers at YOS.

*Name changed to protect the identity of youth 

Eagle Scout Matt Csongradi from Scout Troop 815 organized a back to school drive this summer. Matt and his mom delivered the supplies to the YOS Irving Park office, near their home, last month.

The back to school drive was for Matt’s Eagle Scout project. He spent time all summer putting together the drive and gathering supplies.

YOS received an additional donation of school supplies from HSBC through Volunteers of America.

Thanks to Matt, Troop 815 and HSBC, 100 YOS youth had new supplies to start the school year.

This summer YOS’s counselors decided to give counseling and child welfare clients an opportunity to exhibit their talents and learn valuable life skills.

On August 27th, the 1st YOS Visual Art and Talent Show was a boisterous and joyful evening. YOS youth performed songs and spoken word, displayed their art and demonstrated their new glass blowing skills.

The success of the show was one of many accomplishments this summer for the youth who chose to participate.  The youth met once a week for group therapy and planning sessions. At these meetings the youth and counselors would take time to talk about feelings the young people were having.  “Many of the youth were nervous and worried about being judged,” said Stephanie Clark, Art Therapist at YOS.

The weekly meetings also focused on learning how to give and receive constructive feedback.  Practicing for the show and talking about their projects gave the youth the chance to try out their new feedback skills in a safe setting.  As the summer went on the youth became more open and willing to share feedback.  This allowed the group to improve and for many led to an increase in self-confidence.

Spotlight On: Glass Blowing Therapy Group

Three young women from the talent show also participated in a second summer therapy group.  This group focused on positive growth and development.  It also gave these three visual artists the opportunity to learn an amazing new skill.  This group would spent time each week at Ignite Glass Studio accompanied by YOS staff.

Learning the skill of glass blowing worked to support the group’s goal of positive growth.  The accomplishment of improving in a new skill worked to build the young women’s confidence.  With increased confidence came relationship building and a sense of the group.  All these great things created a positive environment of collaboration were the youth learned from each other and the Ignite staff.

The second addition of Pulse Magazine promises to be a success. YOS publishes the magazine yearly. Pulse’s content is heavily influenced by the youth at YOS. Youth journalist and editors from Making Proud Choices that is a part of PREP (Personal Responsibility Education Program) work with YOS staff to pick the topics in each issue.

The magazine serves multiple purposes. Not only is it an opportunity for young men and women to develop their writing skills and learn more about magazine production, but also Pulse is part of the Health & Wellness component of PREP. Each issue covers health issues that are relevant to teens. Pulse works to provide teens and adults information they can relate to on general health as well as pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted diseases. This issue has articles on Personal Responsibility for Teens, on the Importance of Social Health and on what adults need to know about teenagers. It also includes a Q & A with a Dietician, a Healthy Restaurant Guide and The Guys’ Guide.
This year saw the addition of a local designer: Bernice Fountain. Bernice is a graduate of Proviso East High School, one of the schools that PREP serves, and in 2013 she received her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from Columbia College Chicago. She not only did the layout work, Bernice was also the student journalists’ guide on the day of the photo shoot for the new issue. Bernice really enjoyed working with the students, she found them to be real and that they expressed their opinions with “no sugar coating.”

The full issue will be available to YOS supporters when it is released in September.

Heart of the Matter (HOTM) is held every few months to celebrate the steps our counseling clients at the Cicero office have taken towards positive change. In June two young people were nominated by their counselors for HOTM awards.

Megan Wales nominated her client “because she has made so much progress during her time at YOS.” While at YOS, YV has worked hard to create positive change in her life. When, she started coming to YOS, she wasn’t communicating with her mother and due to anxiety she was unable to attend most of her classes. Now, she is talking with her mother, taking positive steps to manage her anxiety and is working to get her GED.

Sean Saltzberg was also proud of his nominee. The last year has not been an easy one for Jaecob. He has struggled to cope with loss and violence. Despite this, he has remained committed to his family and school work. Jaecob maintained all A’s and B’s this past school year. He still found time to regularly stop by his grandma’s house. Sean said, “Jaecob’s resilience and perseverance is something that as his counselor I truly admire.”

We are delighted for YV and Jaecob for the positive changes they are making in their lives. Congratulations to both of them for their hard work and continued growth.

YOS’ Cicero Office hosted a community open house on June 20th. This first open house was a great start to what the staff hopes will become an annual event. The goals were to show YOS’ continued committed engagement to the community and to invite people to stop by and see all that YOS has to offer.

The day was a success. It served as a great way to invite the wider Cicero community to stop by and check out YOS. The open house started at 11am and went till 3pm, during that time many members of the community stopped by to chat, have something to eat and learn about YOS’ programs. The kids also got to have their faces painted. Both adults and youth alike were appreciated the time set aside to hear from Dawn Early of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).


Dawn started with general information on the damage drunk driving does to communities. Then, she told a thought provoking story about a young lady whose life was cut short by drunk driving. Dawn’s story created an environment were others felt comfortable talking about substance abuse issues in their own lives and communities. She was generous with her time, answering questions and talking with community members. Dawn’s presentation served to emphasize the importance of the substance abuse treatment services provided by the YOS Cicero Office.

Staying actively engaged in the communities we serve is a vital part of the YOS mission. Cicero staff did a great job creating a fun and interesting event that will help to grow YOS’ involvement and impact in the Cicero community. Hope to see everyone next year!

One of this year’s focuses for the Prevention Personal Responsibility Education Program(PREP) is health and nutrition. With this focus in mind Adam Price, YOS’s Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist, started planning for a self-sustaining community garden. As Adam’s plans started to take shape, his support grew.

With Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins in attendance, ground was broken on June 14th. The garden is a part of the Safe Summer Initiative with the goal of giving kids living in a food desert a healthy summer alternative. Currently, there are 10 plots in place growing both summer and fall crops. The youth and community have plans to celebrate by making salads for friends and family. They are also looking forward to pumpkins in the fall.

Adam has put in a lot of hard work to make the garden grow. With his brother and father,he put up the fence that was a total surprise to the involved youth, which now included not only PREP participants but also other youth in the community. Adam is the first to admit that he could never have been so successful without the amazing effort and support of others.

Launching the Maywood garden involved substantial community support. The Village of Maywood offered YOS congratulations on their efforts. 25 young women from The Maywood Summer Jobs Program came out to paint primer on the fence. The Girls’ Group from the YOS Melrose office was then able to paint the fence in a colorful design. Loyola University has provided health, nutrition and prevention education. Triton College’s horticulture department worked to educate the youth on the many parts the go into making a healthy sustainable garden. From other generous groups, Adam got donations of plants, soil, seeds and manpower. Adam made special mention of the staff at the Maywood office for their help throughout the project. The support has been invaluable in getting the garden started.

As the garden moves into the future, there are plans for local families to adopt the care of each plot. The transition to more community control could not have come at a better time. Friday was Adam’s last day at YOS. We wish Adam the best as he moves to Guangzhou, China to teach English for a year and are truly grateful for his time at YOS.

Picture Adam Price with his father and brother

At the beginning of the month, 100 Chicago youth gathered for orientation to kick off One Summer Chicago.  One Summer Chicago is a program that works to start justice involved youth down the road to career success. The participants hold down a 25 hour a week job and attend career skills workshops throughout the summer.

For many, orientation was their first exposure to the day to day necessities for success.  The students learned about filling out the forms for their jobs.  They also heard lectures about the important everyday steps to success, including being on time and accountability.

Throughout the day the students were given a lot of information, making relating everything to their own lives difficult at best. Helping the youth with the complicated task of translating the day’s information into a meaningful takeaway isn’t an easy assignment.  Despite this, John Fakhoury President and CEO of Framework Communications did an outstanding job.

John Fakhoury, pictured here at the YOS Spring Soirée in May 2014

 John’s seminar helped the youth prepare for the summer ahead.   At one memorable point John asked them to define success.  He used their definitions to show them how the little things such as accountability and not selling themselves short will move the participants towards the success they want in their lives.

Through John’s talk the students were able to apply the information in their orientation packets to their own situations. Prevention Program Manager Tasha Quinn was impressed with how much the students related to John. He helped them see that working hard on the things they can control will help lead them towards success.  The students were actively listening, sharing stories from their own lives and genuinely relating to John and his message.

It was a great start to One Summer Chicago. Thanks to John for his great talk and best of luck this summer to all the participants.


YOS Youth and Family Advocate Edwin Day

Cook County’s juvenile rehabilitation program, “Aftercare,” is being launched statewide later this year.  The pilot strategy involves a case worker assigned to small groups of youth involved in the juvenile justice system.  Each Aftercare specialist acts more as a mentor than a parole officer, attempting to instill motivation and confidence in each teen to improve their well-being.  The pilot’s primary goal is to keep them out of prison.  However, social workers like Edwin Day go the extra mile to increase the youth’s likelihood for success.  His work, along with that of YOS Executive Director Rick Velasquez, was highlighted last week on WBEZ for innovative methods of keeping kids on the righteous path.

Day was accompanied by on-air personality Patrick Smith on a tour of the West Side last Tuesday to check in with kids involved with Aftercare.  YOS currently is the recipient of a grant to work with a limited number of kids in the area.  When the statewide expansion is implemented, over 1,400 youth will be assigned their own case worker.  During the ride-along, Day noted the long and difficult process it takes to keep kids in school and out of trouble.  They were unsuccessful in getting any of the three kids on Day’s case load to attend school that day.  Aftercare specialists and helpers realize how difficult reaching troubled youths can be.  Day’s silver lining is that there is still time to get through to the kids and steer them in the right direction.  The Youth and Family Advocate discussed the little victories that come out of the program.

“I try to leave the impression on the kids that I care about them and I want them to succeed,” said Day.  “The time that we’re spending trying to get them [to school] blocks them being somewhere else where they could be involved in a crime or something happening to them.”

Click HERE to get full coverage of Day’s recent work to improve the lives of Chicago youth.

Rick Velasquez sat down with WBEZ morning show host Tony Sarabia to discuss how Aftercare embodies YOS’ mission of keeping the most needed children safe and healthy at all times.  The program addresses root issues in the kids’ lives.  Knowledge of home life, full involvement and advice helps the kids feel more comfortable as members of the community rather than delinquents and will lead to further participation in the process.  Promoting the plan across Illinois will educate others to recognize the kids’ potential and prevent negative associations with parole involvement.

“Just as if they were our own child, we cannot give up on these kids,” stated Velasquez.  “We must hone away not only at the success of school, but capitalize on the person’s other interests.  The important thing to remember is if we give up on these kids, they will give up on themselves.  Let’s not be ready to pull the trigger.”

Numerous clergy members and community leaders are also involved with Aftercare.  They constantly drive home the idea that the youth are reluctant, but not always threatening.  The goal is for them to believe that they can be successful.  Studies show that kids are more likely to be rehabilitated if youth programs are integrated into the community.“Most importantly, it gives the young person the sense that they can work toward their future rather than waiting to be thrown back into the community” Velasquez added.  “They will respond if given the opportunity to participate.”

Click HERE to listen to Rick Velasquez and Mark Smith on WBEZ Morning Shift.


YOS has the latest on their 3 part series Who Needs Rehab Centers in Illinois? in conjunction with  Currently, most kids involved with some type of substance issue are not receiving the necessary care to improve their situation.  Addiction Blog has been uncovering statistics about teenage drug and alcohol use and comparing them to the rest of the country.  Many anonymous surveys were conducted to receive a numerical analysis on who is involved with substance abuse and illustrate to the public the importance of lowering those numbers.

The graphics below conclude that rehabilitation in Illinois should be made a higher priority.

Addiction Blog's latest stats on teenage drug and alcohol use.



































Addiction Blog's latest stats on substances that teens are involving themselves with.