Creating Opportunity Through Youth Employment – Part 1

On the last day of One Summer Chicago – a county-wide collaborative providing youth employment opportunities – the young participants celebrate with some volleyball in Chopin Park. Though it seems they are just taking part in a fun recreational activity with friends, it’s a worthwhile reward after working in the program all summer. Beginning in June, Heartland Alliance was able to provide opportunities for these young people to expand their employment skills by assisting Heartland Alliance in providing child care, teaching ESL classes, and assisting people in their journey toward citizenship.

The program is dedicated to giving young people from ages 16 to 24 a chance to make some extra money, build a resume, and develop the crucial skills necessary to succeed in today’s workforce. This results in a diverse mix of future professionals: from high school students, to college freshmen-to-be, to current college students deciding their next steps. This particular group of young people was primarily made up of children of Latino immigrants in Chicago. Regardless of how long they have lived in the Windy City, Chicago is the formative base of their future successes.

Some participants are not only helping out with citizenship classes, but are in the middle of their own citizenship process. Rene and Gabriela, sisters from Guatemala, moved to the US at ages 13 and 14 – they are now 22 and 23. Both are currently in their third years of studying nursing – Rene at Wright College, and Gabriela having just transferred to Dominican University.

Though they had taken English classes in school at Guatemala, neither sister spoke English fluently until they moved to the U.S. The two took to their new language quickly as children, with Rene learning English in only six months as her sister, Gabriela, took three. While the sisters learned English more outside of school, their interests leaned more toward their favorite school subjects: math and science. From childhood, they both knew where their futures would lie – as they both looked up to their uncle, a medical doctor. Their plans for the future are to help communities through health.

“You see all the things that are going on right now in the world, like people cannot afford health care… so you want to help.” Gabriella explained, “I’ve known this for a long, long time.”

The summer program has helped them to gain work experience and help others in their same situation. Regarding the program, Rene feels that every day she learns something new, while Gabriela feels it helps her stay optimistic in their journey to working in health care. Both are ready to go back to school to continue working toward their degrees, and are prepared for the stress that comes with it.

But as long as you’re doing what you’re passionate about, as Gabriela puts it, “No matter how stressful it is, you’re going to like it.”