Several years ago, SWOP was looking to expand its work with young people in schools. SWOP wanted to go beyond providing after-school programming to begin to build youth leaders for the community. That’s when SWOP discovered the Teen REACH program.
In Chicago Lawn, SWOP’s Teen REACH effort began at Fairfield Elementary in the 2008 – 2009 school year, and was moved to Morrill Elementary in the 2009 – 2010 school year; where it has remained ever since. SWOP’s Teen REACH program has always been high performing, typically serving more young people than the grant budget calls for. This year, SWOP receives funding to serve 40 students, but has more than 50 in the program. Last year, without State funding, SWOP served 40 students using United Way funding. SWOP’s effort delivers quality mentorship that leads to improved grades, test scores, school attendance, involvement in the program, and mentor/mentee relationships that last into adulthood.
Teen REACH is a State funded after-school program that works with different non-profit providers across Illinois. Teen REACH provides after-school programs and mentorship opportunities to young people between the ages of 11 and 17 years old, with a focus on “at risk” youth. Young people who come from low-income families, single-parent households, have behavioral issues, and/or are academically underachieving have the indicators that make a young person a good candidate for Teen REACH. The goal is to improve the students’ “at risk” status.
What makes the Chicago Lawn program unique is its intent to give young people a voice and leadership in the program; allowing the participants to have a say in what they learn and do during the three hours after school when they are in the program. SWOP’s Teen REACH effort engages young people in a way that many of them would not have been able to experience otherwise. Teen REACHers have taken trips to Springfield, Illinois to contribute to policy changes. They have taken trips to the Mississippi Palisades on what was for many, their first camping trip. Engaging students’ curiosity and involvement in the program has always been a source of pride for the mentors that make Teen REACH happen every day.
For this school year, SWOP’s Teen REACH program has hired a new Program Coordinator, Jasmine Serrano. Jasmine lived in the community for more than ten years and worked with SWOP since she was a sophomore at Gage Park High School; the neighborhood high school. Now, at 23, she manages Teen REACH with the objective of getting young people ready for high school and beyond, and with the help of the rest of the Teen REACH staff and interns, she creates a safe space for young people to be themselves, learn, speak, and play.