Works and Days

Connecting with Minority Youth in the Greater Chicagoland Area, McGill Lawrence, Rosa Leal

McGill Lawrence Internship Award recipient Rosa Leal, '18, interned with the Choices Youth Outreach organization, implementing youth programs in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago.

Coming back home this summer has been a truly eye-opening experience. These last few months have been some of the most rewarding and hectic times. I was originally intended to intern with the Chicago Freedom School (CFS); however CFS contacted me two weeks into the summer apologizing that they could no longer offer a position. At first, I panicked! Then I realized I could work with an organization that I had contacted earlier in the grant process. After a week of delegation, I went on to intern with Choices Youth Outreach (CYO), a nonprofit located in the greater Chicagoland area (right in my hometown of Kankakee). Despite however stressful, my path with CYO has turned out to be a truly invaluable experience!

One of my goals this summer was to gain knowledge of the sociological issues facing the area. I wanted to work with an organization that addresses the aftermath of the Chicago Housing Crisis. A devastating policy failure that culminated in the displacement of some 181,000 residents of mostly black neighborhoods in West and Southside Chicago. As a result, concentrated poverty levels were exacerbated and started filtering into nearby towns. Wealth and jobs concentrated into newly-formed mostly white neighborhoods as a result of redistricting and complete neglect by local/federal government. In fact, I didn’t realize the severity of the situation until I was actually back home: boarded-up houses, failing schools, defunded social programs, over-policing, increased gang-affiliation, and violence every day.


CYO works to address these policy concerns and the lack of local resources by providing services and programs aimed specifically towards youth of color who moved into town from Chicago. My biggest project came in assisting the director with the implementation of the summer Youth Camp. It was extremely rewarding going through the administrative process and bringing the program to fruition. I gained experience negotiating with government boards, neighborhood associations, and the park district; I learned how to tap into resources through government agencies, local businesses, and donating-foundations; I networked with local community leaders and activists; and I assisted in structuring a successful program. 

The Youth Camp officially began the third week of July. It targeted the participation of boys ages 8-18 from low-income neighborhoods most at risk of drug and gang activity. To address the lack of local services, the camp was designed to provide day-care and a hot meal each day. I was the group leader of middle- school- aged kids. We laughed, swam, played basketball, and made music. Over dinner, we talked about their lives, families, daily challenges, local gangs, and drugs. I had some awesome conversations over those four weeks of camp. Being able to immerse myself in the community and its challenges while connecting with youth is an experience I will never forget.

Tags: mcgill lawrence, summer, internship, minority, youth, social justice, outreach, poverty