MPC forum explores youth opportunities in CHA communities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC forum explores youth opportunities in CHA communities

"Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities" forum focused programming to engage young people, including several new initiatives launched by CHA and the Chicago Dept. of Children and Youth Services.

On Oct. 17, 2008, the Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities forum series, co-hosted by MPC and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation, focused on community building, with a specific emphasis on youth programming and engagement in CHA communities. Paul Carlisle, vice president at Chase Bank and a member of MPC’s Board of Governors, moderated the panel discussion, which featured opening remarks from Lewis Jordan, CEO of CHA, and Mary Ellen Caron, commissioner of the Chicago Dept. of Children and Youth Services (CYS). Pam David, executive director of the San Francisco-based Walter and Elise Haas Fund, provided the national perspective, while local, on-the-ground experiences were shared by Rachel McDonald Romo, executive director of SER-Jobs for Progress, and Alonzo Williams , deputy director of programs at Chicago Park District.

Mr. Jordan began by thanking “those who work with young people everyday,” and expressed CHA’s need for “help with the people side” of the Plan for Transformation. Emphasizing that residents are the “most valued resource” of the Plan, he reiterated his priority to help children in CHA housing break the poverty cycle through education and employment opportunities that allow them access to alternative housing options when they turn 18. In order to achieve this, he said, “we have to be clear on how we develop programs and facilitate the process of access and participation,” which requires understanding the population. Mr. Jordan commended the city’s CYS department, Chicago Park District, as well as SER-Jobs for Progress, for its work with CHA youth. He stressed the need for continued partnerships with these and other organizations.

Commissoner Caron outlined Chicago’s changing youth demographics and how CYS is tailoring programming to address these changes. The city has experienced increases in the number of children and youth on the outer edges of its boundary, and a shift in the number of children living in poverty from the central city to these outer-edge communities. Both the Plan for Transformation and increase of Latino children citywide play a role in the changing demographics, and CYS is encouraging agencies to move into the neighborhoods where youth are. However, funding is a significant challenge – 60 percent of CYS’ $200 million budget is allocated to programs for children under the age of five and there are very few slots in other programs compared to the number of youth, especially those age 13 to 17. Still, Dr. Caron emphasized the importance of going out into CHA communities to find youth and “figure out what will attract and engage them.”

Pam David commended Chicago as a model for San Francisco’s public housing redevelopment efforts, despite the differences in scale. Ms. David described several unique initiatives in San Francisco – including HOPE SF and Communities of Opportunity – which are aimed at involving residents in redeveloping their communities and improving the service delivery system for families. It is important to “know what role you can play and where you need partners to step in,” she said, stressing the need for partnerships between local government agencies and philanthropic organizations that have flexible funds to fill service gaps. Ms. David also described San Francisco’s Dept. of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF) Children’s Fund , which provides up to $18 million each year (from property tax set-asides) for programs and services for children age 0 to 17. Despite all of these resources, ongoing challenges remain, such as how to institutionalize changes in service delivery and build capacity of community-based organizations in the neediest communities. Stressing San Francisco’s commitment to ensuring people can go through “no wrong door” in their search for information about how and where to get services, Ms. David outlined strategies for aligning and coordinating the activities, outreach and communications of the many departments and stakeholders involved in service delivery.

Rachel McDonald Romo described SER-Jobs for Progress’ partnership with CHA, CYS, and Sylvan Learning to provide programs for CHA youth at the former Henry Horner homes. Program priorities include connecting youth to their community and city, and helping them make plans for the future by integrating education with career development. Ms. Romo stressed how critical the self-discovery process is for youth, and pointed out the ”wrong person working with young people will turn them away.”

Alonzo Williams reiterated the Chicago Park District’s goal to provide recreational opportunities in a safe environment for all Chicago residents, including CHA youth. Mr. Williams described the district’s partnership with CHA to provide more than 1,700 vouchers for CHA youth to participate in summer 2008 programs, which was recently expanded to provide vouchers for year round programs. Mr. Williams emphasized “we don’t distinguish between CHA and non-CHA residents,” but explained the Park District does do outreach to youth and CHA families in the 20 parks adjacent to or within CHA communities to get them involved in programming.

An extensive Q&A session followed the panelists’ presentations, which such issues as access to social service systems, improvements to parks and recreational facilities near mixed-income communities, and building diversity and interaction in these communities through youth engagement. Mr. Jordan thanked panelists and attendees for “reminding me why I do what I do everyday.”

Summaries of other Building Successful Mixed-Income Communities forums and related publications are available on MPC’s Web site. Please contact Laura Broussard at lbroussard@metroplanning.org , or 312-863-6006, to be added to the invitation list for future forums.

MPC research assistant Elizabeth Frantz contributed to this article.

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