Children’s Home + Aid’s Director of Youth Services, Jimi Orange, Youth Mentor Avery Sterling, and client Lewis Blake spoke with Chicago Tonight recently to discuss the City of Chicago’s efforts to reengage youth ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor currently working. The Chicago Tonight story is a follow up from the Thrive Chicago Opportunity Youth Summit held earlier this month that featured two of the agency’s clients on a youth panel.

On March 14, more than 400 people from 150 organizations gathered at the Opportunity Youth Summit. Launched in the summer of 2016 by Thrive Chicago, the initiative aims to connect disengaged youth, known as Opportunity Youth, who are not employed or in school with educational and employment opportunities. The goal is to reengage 10,000 Opportunity Youth back into school and work by 2020. The Summit was attended by Jimi Orange and Avery Sterling, as well as Freddie Alston, a participant in the Power of Fathers initiative, and Mashaun Alston (no relation to Freddie), a Navigator Case Manager in the Power of Fathers initiative.


During the Opportunity Youth Promising Practices panel, Daniel Nelson of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls said, “It’s relationships, not programs that change kids’ lives. We need to be in relationships with our kids.” As participants in the Youth Dialogue panel, Avery and Freddie exemplified the power of relationships and how entering one program can spark a positive ripple effect. After coming to Children’s Home + Aid through the One Summer Chicago program three years ago, Avery is now employed full-time by Children’s Home + Aid as a youth mentor. Avery credited his success and positive outcomes to his relationship with Jimi and the opportunities created by it. Avery, who’s open about his past decisions, asked the audience to consider how much one opportunity can change a life.

“It’s relationships, not programs that change kids’ lives. We need to be in relationships with our kids.”

Freddie, who also came to Children’s Home + Aid through the One Summer Chicago program, is a teen parent to a one-year-old boy and a 4-day-old girl. After Freddie entered the program, Avery became his mentor and taught him interview skills and how to stay calm and focused at work. Freddie doesn’t have a relationship with his own dad and wants to be a father to his two children. As a participant in the Power of Fathers Initiative, Freddie has learned from Mashaun how to deescalate conflicts. Though he just began the program, he’s looking forward to connecting to a supportive network of other dads in his community.


Both Avery and Freddie show that as youth build relationships, their own lives, the lives of their families, and the larger community benefit in turn. Children’s Home + Aid has been part of Thrive Chicago since it began and is committed to helping prepare youth for bright futures. As these relationships show, youth need an inter-connected web of support to be successful. We believe the findings from our fiscal scan of public spending on youth ages 8-25 are the first step forward to ensure that all youth are stable, safe, healthy, educated, employable, and connected citizens.