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.


























"I Overcome" was the theme for the Austin "Summer Celebration" Barbecue.

Youth Outreach Services partnered with Red Moon Theater Company to participate in a preliminary event for the Great Chicago Fire Festival on Friday, June 20th.  LaFollette Park was in full swing for this all-ages  “Summer Celebration”  Barbecue, informing and energizing people about the grand spectacle next fall.  Guests enjoyed free food, a bake-off, fine artwork and music.  The event’s theme was  “I Overcome,”  focusing on how citizens prevail in terrible situations like the Great Chicago Fire.  Over 100 guests took pictures in the photo booth while holding a chalkboard saying “I Overcome.”  Art Therapist and Coordinator for YOS,  Stephanie Clark,  motivated the youth to take pictures and share their struggles with other attendees.  Each participant received a souvenir button to signify their dedication to the ongoing city project.  Guests left happy and fed from numerous grills firing up hot dogs, burgers, pulled pork and jerk chicken.  A keg was provided by Chicago Root Beer and attendees could enjoy a live DJ during the event.


Paris, Kyla, Patrick and Kennedy displaying their abilities to overcome.

YOS client Roberto taking part in the photo booth challenge.

Organizations such as YOS and CeaseFire will be hosting a series of events and art activities all summer to promote the spectacle.  Each one of them is free and open to the public in the hopes that citizens will participate and make the Great Chicago Fire Festival a staple in the city’s cultural history.  On October 4th, community members from all over the Windy City will unite to showcase their strength and resilience in commemoration of the tragic fire in 1871.  The most diverse Chicago neighborhoods will create sculptures and display them atop a giant float near the river.  They will stand side by side as they watch the float being burned, as the flames dance off into the sky and create an unbreakable city bond.

Works from over 150 different artists and 10,000 community members will be presented to represent resilience and renewal in the places that need it the most.  GCFF will advance Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ongoing plan to develop the Chicago River’s accessibility.  This will be the first major cultural event on the river, with the hopes of continuing the $100 million investment and restoring it as a gathering place for all.

Grill masters serving up good food and smiles.

The event featured a DJ to liven up the celebration.

The beautifully renovated YOS Austin office.

Youth Outreach Services’ renovation of the Austin office was recently featured in IFF’s newsletter.  IFF provided the financing for this project.

When renovations at Youth Outreach Services in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood came to a standstill, Executive Director Rick Velasquez faced some hard choices.  YOS either could buy or lease new space, or spend funds on an environmental problem related to a now-vacant gas station next-door.  Neither solution would have been easy on the nonprofit’s pocketbook.

That’s when Velasquez approached IFF to revitalize the project.  YOS obtained a $596,000 loan from IFF as well as hired us to manage the project. The more spacious office has group rooms with dividers, new carpet, cameras to monitor the doors, and a computer lab with new equipment. Green improvements for YOS include a new reflective roof with additional insulation, high-efficiency HVAC units, and efficient light fixtures throughout the building.

“Being that we had a long history of work within the Austin community, we felt it was necessary for us to maintain this presence,” Velasquez said.  “We have been in this building 25 years, and we’ve been working in Austin even longer than that.”

With IFF’s help, YOS was able to stay in its home and reopened February 2014 for the crucial business of caring for the area’s most vulnerable teens.  Since 1959, the organization has helped nearly 300,000 youth find stable homes, stay in school, avoid substance abuse and gang involvement, and make better choices to improve their lives.

IFF’s funds for energy efficiency lending came from Bank of America’s Energy Efficiency Finance Program.   IFF was one of only nine community development financial institutions with expertise in energy retrofits selected to share $55 million in low-cost capital to help reduce carbon emissions, lower utility costs, and create jobs.

South Side Help's workshops like "Loving Me" help enhance teen attitudes and behaviors.

This past February, YOS partnered with South Side Help to embrace healthy relationship building and problem solving through a seminar entitled “Loving Me: Teen Dating Violence Prevention”.  South Side Help Center’s Youth Programs provide youth ages 9-18 with comprehensive services to help them achieve success, inherit positive self-esteem, distinguish values important to them and enable them to thrive as a productive adult member of society.  The event was led by South Side Help’s Felicia Simpson, who polled group members about ideal relationships and how to avoid harmful interaction with friends or significant others.  Simpson, the current Violence Prevention Specialist at South Side Help, created a presentation centered on elements of the Power Control Wheel, a model put in place by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in 1984 to document the most common abusive behaviors or tactics that were used against female focus groups.

Speaker Felicia Simposon explains the dangers of abuse in relationships.

After learning the different types of abuse that exist in relationships, participants took a survey to determine where they fit in the Power Control Wheel and practiced multiple ways to achieve synergistic and healthy connections with one another.  Some of the youths were surprised that these types of abuse can often be hidden.

“I never knew people could be forced to have sex by manipulation and threats”.

-          Terrell, 13

“The guest speaker didn’t look like she had been abused.  I guess you can’t look at someone and be able to tell whether or not they are being abused”.

-          Devine, 12




The second annual YOS Spring Soirée was a great success.  The event raised more than $25,000 to support YOS’ programming for vulnerable youth.

YOS supporter John Fakhoury

The theme of the night was “Better Together” and the spirit of collaboration was in evidence.  Longtime YOS supporter John Fakhoury, CEO of Framework Communications, shared the stage with Director of Prevention Services Sandra Harrison.  John and Sandra emphasized the importance of collaboration between private companies and YOS.  Framework Communications has collaborated with the YOS Prevention team on a communications plan for youth and families in Maywood receiving teen pregnancy prevention services. Framework’s expertise in the field of communications helped YOS reach out to community residents in an effective and respectful way.  “YOS is a nonprofit I’m proud to partner with because we share the same belief: all kids deserve to pursue positive choices that lead to opportunities they thrive in,” said John.

Keynote Speaker Jeri Smith and YOS Executive Director Rick Velasquez


The night ended with a stirring speech by YOS Board Member Jeri Smith, whose company Galmont Consulting was the event’s title sponsor.  Jeri shared a moving story about how an experience at a summer camp helped her get through her own struggles as a teenager.  She chooses to support YOS because she knows high quality programming for teenagers can make a lifetime of difference.

At the event, guests enjoyed live jazz by New Standard Music, a hilarious performance with active audience participation from iO Improv Theater and fun fundraising activities, including a silent auction, raffle and cork pull.  Most importantly, guests left the event feeling inspired by the important services provided by YOS.

For the complete photo album from the YOS Spring Soirée, visit our Facebook page.


The YOS office in Maywood is launching a program for at-risk girls ages 11-17.  The “Prep Girlz Mentoring Group”, in partnership with Common Threads, works to improve personal, social and emotional skills for young ladies.  Prep Girlz has utilized meetings and workshops to promote healthy living in Proviso Township.  Five teens were selected to take part in a 14 week training program centered on a “Healthy Me”.  The program includes presentations regarding puberty, nutrition and the effects of alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

For the last decade, Common Threads has focused on teaching kids how to live healthy through after-school culinary programs led by professionals.  Students who participate in the programs learn how to cook nutritious dishes and make daily healthy choices.  For “Healthy Me” awareness month, YOS collaborated with Common Threads  to develop healthy cooking skills. One of the classes conducted was the Cooking Skills and World Cuisine Class, a safe knife-free tutorial on how to make traditional Swedish meals.

Participants in Prep Girlz are referred by community organizers, church leaders and school administrators.  The 14 week program includes workshops on Anger Management, Dress for Success, Teenage Dating and Abuse and Etiquette.  The mentees will be given the chance to visit Willis Towers and take a college tour while enhancing their decision-making abilities and expanding their knowledge of effective problem solving.  Mentors are seeking to increase personal and civic values while each young lady develops her own vision for the future.


As part of the Conscience Community Network, YOS is one of seven youth service providers selected by the State of Illinois to participate in the first Pay for Success Project.  Read more here about this innovative approach to serving at-risk youth through performance-based contracts funded by private investment.

Today is the Affordable Care Act deadline to sign-up for health insurance.  You can bet YOS counselor Dianne Wilson will be hard at work, like she has been for weeks, getting the uninsured enrolled.

Dianne has had great success signing up the uninsured in the Chicago area with some unconventional approaches.  On her own, she is having greater success than some organizations with large staffs.

Dianne’s weekly quota from Get Covered Illinois for new sign-ups is 15.  She’s easily quadrupled her quota (some weeks even more) by going out into the community to find the uninsured at homeless shelters, plasma centers, church groups and home visits.  Her persistence is so great, she’s known as the “Obama lady” in some of the neighborhoods where she works, like Melrose Park.

“I have a lot of experience navigating my way in communities,” said Dianne.  “I’m happy to be able to use my skills to help people get access to health insurance.”

Her work is having a larger impact than just health insurance.  For example, at a homeless shelter, she found a family (mom, dad and two daughters) who live in their car.  In addition to getting them signed up for health insurance, Dianne found them housing through a residency program, which also helped the dad find work at a loading dock.

Dianne is very passionate about her work and it shows in her results.  Congratulations Dianne!