At Chopin Park in the Portage Park neighborhood, a group of young people celebrate the end of the One Summer Chicago experience. The program brings together City and County governments, nonprofits, and for-profit companies to help young people find exciting ways to build employment skills between school years.
This summer placed some of our Heartland Alliance’s young participants in that strange space between high school and college. Jenny and Carolina are about to begin the next step towards a career path this fall – Jenny at UIC and Carolina at Bradley University. But until then, the two spent most of their time this summer providing childcare at Heartland Alliance’s Belmont-Cragin office which offers programs dedicated to helping adults learn English and move through the citizenship process.
When asked about the experience of working in child care, Carolina enthusiastically replied that it had been a beneficial experience for her. Majoring in education, she hopes to impact the lives of young people. Carolina thrived her position, recalling how the children she cared for grew so attached that they cried on the last day, “It gives me a feel of what I will do later on, and I love getting close and helping these kids.”
While Jenny has also enjoyed working in child care over the summer, her true calling is working in health care. She was inspired to pursue that career track after her grandmother passed away last year. “I was at the hospital, and I liked how they treated her,” she shares, remembering the moment she knew she would do the same.
Her helping spirit is not limited to her interest in health care, though. Earlier this year, Jenny was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune regarding her work advocating for DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections recently ended by the current administration. A participant of DACA herself, Jenny wanted to help spread the word about immigration rights.
Her work has further revealed to her the fears immigrant communities face every day, “Especially nowadays—anything can happen.”
Recounting an instance where she was handing out flyers with information on DACA, she describes how a woman confused her with being part of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “She got so scared. But we weren’t trying to get her out of the U.S.,” Jenny explains. “We were trying to help her stay.”
These experiences only inspire her to pursue this work further, so that immigrant communities can see that “not everyone is a bad person.”
Even with current uncertainty, the two are very excited to begin the next chapter of their lives. Serving their communities, they know just how fulfilling their career paths could be – and their determination is stronger than ever. Jenny has already started recruiting her younger friends into the program – and expects to return the following summer.