I wouldn’t say growing up was easy for me. As someone who was under the care of a guardian and not my own parents, it took me a while to adjust, especially in my teenage years. Man, I was raging a ball of hormones. Not only was I dealing with a lot of physical changes, but emotional and mental struggles too. It’s posts like these that I am most able to reflect and connect. I think about the people in my life who decided to invest in me and my well-being. Who encouraged me to be greater than my current situation.
That is what Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative( CYOI) is doing for youth in Chicago. CYOI is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded by Brittiney Jones that provides ward of the state youth with educational and career resources through mentoring programs with diverse professionals in the city of Chicago. CYOI is here to change the statistics for youth 14-18. According to CYOI, “only 50% of foster care youth are employed by the age of 24”, and less than “50% will graduate from high school by the age of 19.” The astronomical numbers and the personal experience of being a foster child were enough to drive Brittiney to create an organization that would motivate the next generation.
Liu Jones, a Board Member, and former Mentorship leader shared the story of the organization with me, its current program, and goals for the near future. CYOI leads students through development programs that focus on holistic growth. Through a holistic approach, especially in the core years of personal development, students are able to self-evaluate, develop goals, and prepare for their next steps as an adult. The formal development sessions, take place every other Saturday during the academic year and primarily focus on transferable skills like leadership. Through these sessions, students are able to self-evaluate. During one recent session, Liu shared that these students had common traits of “not being able to adapt” yet they are more “empathetic” and are able to relate to others. Understanding their character traits helps them achieve greater success in their personal lives and in their careers.
During our conversation, Liu shared how invaluable the mentors were to the CYOI program. These mentors and mentees bond quickly. According to Liu, they are “able leverage that relationship to let me know there is more out there.” These mentors show that hustlers can work a 9 to 5 and be very successful. Mentors range from teachers to consultants, and even artists. These career driven mentors show students that there are more ways to make a living than being a pro-athlete or a drug dealer.
So who exactly are these mentors motivating the next generation? Millenials. Liu and I discussed the influence of the Me, Me, Me Generation and how we are creating good for our communities. The mentors, board members, and even the founder are between the mid 20 to 30 somethings.”Our generation is one to make major strides in the development of the next,” stated Liu. “Even if the students are not there, Saturday after Saturday our mentors still show up just to show support.” Admittedly, we are a self-oriented generation, but a conscious one. Liu references our self-orientation as piece into the bigger puzzle of helping others achieve their goals, referencing the book GRIT by Angela Duckworth.
In its second year, Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative is continuously planning to reach more foster children as well as bring more mentors and organizations who can motivate these youth to its organization. CYOI has a plan to make a larger impact. Liu and I discussed the opportunity for CYOI to partner with like-minded organizations such as BAM and SOAR as well as their 2020 vision, “to make sure that every student that we touch graduates from high school.”
Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative is motivation not only for the children who are wards of the state but the mentors who interact with them on a regular basis. Not too far apart in age, both mentor and mentee are able to relate to each other and continually help one another to create a value within the community of Chicago. CYOI is well on its way, one youth at a time. As cheesy as it may sound( cues Whitney Houston) the children, are indeed our future.
CYOI encourages other young professionals to get involved with their organization. Be a part of CYOI by becoming a mentor, joining a community, attending an event fundraiser, or being a part of a student development event. To learn more about how you can get involved visit their website here.
Be sure to check out the complete audio of my always transparent interview with guests on my podcast The Good Seeker. The conversation with Liu was incredible as he continuously dropped gems upon gems of knowledge throughout. Check it out for yourself. Available below, as well as on SoundCloud and iTunes.