Project RISE 2018

Two summers ago, Family Matters’ Boys to Men program launched an employment initiative, Project RISE, in partnership with the Community Church of Wilmette. Now in its third year, and with the support of the City of Chicago’s Chicagobility Summer Internship Project, Project RISE expanded this summer to include 31 youth.

Project RISE works to address biases and barriers that impede access to the workplace—deepening an understanding of how to leverage youths’ strengths and build relationships across ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. The program encompasses leadership, financial literacy, resiliency skills training and employment readiness, including the mock interviews and resume support given by members of the church’s congregation.

Mock Interviews

This summer’s participants worked 15 – 20 hours per week and had the opportunity to earn up to $450 in total. Teens were also provided a nutritious daily snack.

Community business partners included Sol Café, Little Beans, Neon, Urban Warrior, V-Tone Fitness, Neon CRM, Heartland Café, Ya Mon Jerk Grill, and the United Church of Rogers Park – all of which provided safe and supportive learning environments for youth.

Exposure to Possible Career Paths

Project RISE also afforded youth an opportunity to attend six field trips and to host four guest speakers. Guest speakers’ presentation topics focused on banking and personal investment strategies.

Field trips exposed youth to a diverse array of postsecondary college or career tracks and included:

–   Morningstar, Inc. (to deepen their understanding of financial literacy and the power of personal savings).

–   WNBA Chicago Sky game (including a “meet and greet” with a player and the coaches to learn more about sports management).

–   Exelon (to learn from a panel of diverse employees about their experiences as people of color in corporate America).

–   Specialty Print Communications (to get a “behind the scenes” look at direct marketing and the company’s innovative online and manufacturing operations).

–   Oakton Community College (to be introduced to the offerings of two-year schools: two-year degrees, certificate programs, and how one can take alternative paths by combining the two – i.e. obtaining an EMT certificate to fund a nursing degree).

Project RISE youth leaning in and asking questions in the Morningstar Board Room

Reaction from Teens

When asked to name one skill gained during the Project RISE experience that they are most proud of, youth shared:

“Teamwork.”

“Getting along with new people I meet.”

“Better listening.”

“Working hard so I can get what I want.”

“My communication skills.”

“Patience and understanding my limits, and finding a way to go beyond them.”

Project RISE continued to provide youth a forum to build transformative relationships, created opportunities for leadership development, and fostered teachable moments. We are excited to continue to grow the Project RISE program in the coming year!

If you are interested in hosting Family Matters teens at your workplace, or in supporting the program in a different way, please contact Chris at chris@familymatterschicago.org. To make a contribution, visit our donation page here.


Teen Filmmakers Start a Conversation

Members of Boys to Men (Family Matters’ Teen Boys Program) have hosted four community screenings of their film, Silence the Violence, a documentary that looks at the multiple causes of gun violence through the eyes of young men in Chicago. The film is a culmination of roundtable discussions with the police and the community at large.

Silence the Violence was filmed in Rogers Park and includes stories from all around Chicago. It was produced by Chris Spence, Family Matters’ Director of Teen Boys and Youth Engagement, and members of Boys to Men. Funding for the film was generously provided by the Community Church of Wilmette.

The young men in the film provide courageous, genuine reflections about life and death. They maintain that the violence is an issue of easy access to firearms and lack of access to alternatives to violence. The result is a powerfully arranged collection of everyday footage, statistics, 911 calls, and personalization of what have come to be all-too-familiar news stories.

Through the screenings and panel discussions, Family Matters seeks to offer Rogers Park youth a platform for relating their experiences of discrimination, sharing their opinions on the issue of gun violence, and providing other youth an opportunity to offer insight on promoting peace within our neighborhood and city.

“The experience I had at the theater was amazing. It gave me a platform to show other people how minority youth, including myself, struggle in the neighborhood we live in and to tell our personal story. Being on stage answering questions from the audience made me feel as if I was a spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the people in my community.”  

– Elijah, Boys to Men member

The four screenings (held at the Community Church of Wilmette, Centered Studios, and the New 400 Theaters) were followed by panel discussions, which engaged diverse audiences in constructive dialogue with the young men. Given participant responses, we believe that they emerged with a deeper understanding of these complex issues.

“The screening was a great thing. I love the way I got to talk about our community problems and to find a solution. We need all the help we can get to make our community a better place.”

– Derek, Boys to Men member

Proceeds from the screenings support Project RISE, which offers internships for the youth at local businesses.

We are hopeful that the screenings have inspired future opportunities for collaboration and justice-oriented action.

If you or someone you know is interested in hosting a group screening of the film, please contact Amanda Reuter at amanda@familymatterschicago.org. We would also welcome feedback from anyone who attended one of the screenings.

If you would like to make a contribution to support Boys to Men, please follow this link.


The Band-Aid Activity

This fall, Family Connections is addressing the concept of Educational Equity. To introduce the youth (ages 8-12) to the concept of equity, members participated in a “Band-Aid” activity:

Each youth chose an injury card from a basket. The injuries ranged from a scratched finger to a stomach ache to a shark bite. After reading the injury aloud, each child was given a band-aid to treat the ailment. The youth then answered a series of questions, including: “Is it fair that everyone received a band-aid?” and “Did you receive the treatment that you needed?”

At first, the children said that the band-aid treatment was not fair, because the individual with the stomach ache, for example, needed medicine and not a band-aid. They discussed the concept of equality and fairness, sharing that everyone receiving the exact same thing is, in fact, “fair.”

“Equity” is defined as all individuals getting what they need, as opposed to “equality,” where everyone receives the same treatment.” The youth were invited to share other examples of people receiving “equitable” treatment, instead of “equal” treatment. As they transitioned into afternoon tutoring, they were invited to think about their individual needs regarding academic support, and encouraged to seek what they need at Family Matters, whether it be a break during homework completion or an opportunity to research a personal interest with the support of their tutors.

If you have an example of Equity vs. Equality, we’d love to hear it!


Walking for Equity, Community, and Family Matters

The morning of October 7, 2017 turned out to be a beautiful one, which upheld Family Matters’ rain-free Walkathon streak! Nearly 300 youth, families, and friends walked five miles together along the lakefront for equity, community, and Family Matters. Walkers returned to Gale Academy, (a 1/2 block away from Family Matters), and braved the bee swarms to partake in the delicious picnic, enjoy an amazing bubble show, relax with a chair massage, build community and raise funds and awareness for Family Matters.

Many walkers went home with prizes from the free raffle, and all walkers who raised over $100 for the Walkathon were entered into a second raffle. Congratulations to the following winners:

Anna Ashcraft – 2 month membership to Evanston Athletic Club
Shalona Byrd – iPod Nano
Betsy Shuman-Moore – Rogers Park Restaurant gift card package

Thank you so much to all of you who worked to raise funds for the Walkathon and for Family Matters!

Team fundraising pages will stay active indefinitely. If you would like to contribute, please visit the Walkathon Campaign Page here. Thank you for your support!

See more Walkathon photos on our Facebook page! Click here – remember to like our page while you’re there.

Family Matters’ Walkathon has become a long-standing tradition in the North of Howard community, and we are so grateful for this collaboration with volunteers and neighborhood partners.

In addition to our Event and Picnic Sponsors, we’d like to thank:

Heather Miller for taking photos
Rogers Park Business Alliance for the use of their tents
Adolf and Arthia Jenkins for their tireless work at the grill
Carla Eason for providing chair massages
The 49th Ward Alderman’s Office for the use of their sound system
The 24th District Police Department for providing officers at the crosswalk

And to all of our Walkathon volunteers – this event is possible because of your dedication and generosity.

Anna Ashcraft
Kate Bradley
Paul Bradley
Bob Bobesink
Shalona Byrd
Elwina Davis
Mary Jo Deysach
Megan Fellman
Allisen Hansen
Karen Hedberg
Liz Jacobs

Francis Lynch
Kendra McClintock
Sophie Nyanue

Cynthia Patti
Mr. Reuter
Cherry Saldano
Anna Sardar
Chris Stevenson
Jevon Stewart
Ben Tudor

Desiree Washington

What element of the Walkathon did you enjoy most? Do you have suggestions for next year? We’d love to hear from you! Add your comment below or send us a message – gretchen@familymatterschicago.org.


Teens at Work

Recent research suggests that unemployment among Black and Hispanic youth in Chicago is higher than anywhere else in America.

The academic and economic potential in inner city communities and students has been largely unrecognized and untapped.

In response, last summer Family Matters’ Boys 2 Men program (which works with young men ages 12-19), launched an employment initiative, Project RISE, in partnership with the Community Church of Wilmette. Six members of Boys 2 Men were placed in local businesses for a six-week job experience. The program encompassed leadership, financial literacy, resiliency skills training and employment readiness, and was enriched with mock interviews and resume support given by members of the church’s congregation.

This summer the program has expanded to include the Teen Girls – in all, 18 Family Matters teens participated. The youth were employed at:

Charmer’s Cafe
Dollop Coffee
Lady B Botique
Little Beans Cafe
Neon CRM
Sol Cafe
Spex Carwash
Studio 876
Urban Warrior Fitness
V-Tone Fitness
Symphony (center) and Shaniya (second from right) at Sol Cafe.

The experience has been transformative for the teens involved. In addition to learning new skills and gaining work experience, the jobs have instilled a sense of pride in earning money. The employers are sending a strong message to the participants: we value you, we welcome you, and we want to work with you.

Maku and Antwon in the Sol Cafe kitchen.

“Thank you, for the opportunity to be a part of Family Matters Project RISE Internship Program this summer. It was a great learning experience for the cafe and our entire team. Savion is a wonderful young teen to work with. He was timely, friendly to all, completed all tasks asked of him, and took initiative when and where needed. Most importantly it was best getting to know him. Savion is a wonderfully cheerful, smart young fella with lots of amazing interest. We wish him the best in all of his endeavors.Today, we took a field trip to Restaurant Depot and I shared with him how I shop for the cafe. He was amazed at the gigantic warehouse.  It proved to be a good team building experience for us both.”
– Roseanna, Charmers Cafe

The program was a tremendous success:

  • 100% of partners are interested in participating with the program again next summer.
  • 100% of partners were encouraged by the progress the interns made over the summer.
  • 100% of participants learned and developed new skills.
  • 100% of participants believed they are better prepared for school and the world of work as a result of participating in the RISE Program.
  • 100% of participants would like to return to the program next summer.

“Every day I learned something new. Communication with my fellow workers is so important. I learned what it means to be responsible.”
-Savion, 14

One of the unintended benefits of the program is that it became a poverty reduction strategy in the community as all of the students were able to support their families with their resources.

We are incredibly grateful to the Community Church of Wilmette for its generous support of this program, and to the local businesses that have welcomed Family Matters youth this summer.

If you would like to employ Family Matters teens at your business next summer, please contact Chris at chris@familymatterschicago.org.