Chicago is in the news far too often for violence and its impact on youth. What’s not in the spotlight are the nonprofits working on the front lines to help the city’s at-risk youth overcome obstacles, continue their education, and succeed in work and life. One such organization is Youth Guidance.
Founded in 1924 as The Church Mission of Help, Youth Guidance is a leading provider of school-based programs that serve more than 14,000 youth in 70 public and charter schools in some of Chicago’s most underserved communities. Ninety percent of students served by the nonprofit are low-income, and more than 95 percent are African-American and Hispanic.
Focusing on Young Men At-Risk
One of the group’s marquee programs is Becoming a Man (B.A.M.), an effort commended by Chicago’s mayor and the President of the United States. The program targets young men who are likely to become victims or perpetrators of community violence, resulting from a lack of access to positive, supportive male role models. Counselors and mentors lead participants in lessons and challenges that promote good peer relations and problem-solving skills.
A study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab confirmed the remarkable impact of the B.A.M. program on the young men who participate. They saw a 44 percent reduction in violent crime arrests, as well as significant improvements in academic achievement. “It’s very clear there’s a return on investment for investing in these young men,” said Michelle Morrison, CEO of Youth Guidance.
Contributing to Success
Youth Guidance received a Neighborhood Builder Award from Bank of America in 2011, which it invested in the B.A.M. program. “Bank of America has supported us in some of our most significant growth and innovation areas, said Morrison. “I really commend them for helping to bring us to a place where we’re able to so significantly expand our reach to at-risk males.”
Currently, Youth Guidance is launching a massive expansion of B.A.M., from reaching just under 500 young men in 2013 to a goal of reaching 2,000 in 2014.
Experiencing the Impact
Paul Reilly, head of Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Markets Central Region, was introduced to Youth Guidance by colleagues. He believes it’s important for the bank to support organizations that bring resources to underserved communities in Chicagoland. “We need to convert these pockets of violence and economic blight into pockets of success and economic contribution,” he said.
Reilly encourages hands-on involvement in organizations like Youth Guidance, which goes beyond writing a check to feeling the impact. Morrison agrees: “When people engage directly and understand the resiliency of our at-risk youth, they get to see all the potential we have as a city and end up leaving tremendously hopeful about the future.”