In East St. Louis, more youth between ages 17 – 24 are finding themselves at risk of becoming homeless, and many others already don’t have a safe place to call home, lack a support network, and need access to basic resources. Our youth services in southern Illinois empower young people to transform their trajectories when facing tough situations like these. In FY21, youth services partnered with 114 youth and will soon welcome another family counselor to serve even more. 

“Attorneys refer their young clients,” explains Stormy Tovar, Youth Services Supervisor. “When young people have a first-time charge for possession of a weapon, they chat with me to see if our First Time Weapons Offender (FTWO) program is a good fit,” Stormy says. “Youth partner with us for 6 – 9 months to shore up and stabilize, depending on probation terms, trauma histories, and what they require to thrive.” 

“Every kid has said they carried a weapon for their safety and peace of mind. These youth have experienced trauma and don’t necessarily have relationships and coping skills to navigate it and heal.” 
~ Stormy Tovar, Youth Services Supervisor

“The 13 young men I work with are in a unique position,” shares Wanda Carson, Juvenile Justice Specialist in our FTWO program. “Basic resources are a priority, but even more so, building independent living skills as they transition into adulthood. Our partners are sharing expertise and experiences to help them in their journey.” 

Wanda meets with youth weekly to guide them with finding jobs, next steps for school, budgeting, or applying for food stamps and support like childcare assistance, if kids are in the picture. “Whenever possible, I incorporate therapy and trauma counseling,” Wanda explains.  

“We’re encouraging healing by creating a safe space for youth to share their feelings without judgment.” 
~ Wanda Carson, Juvenile Justice Specialist, FTWO program

“These youth are breaking generational cycles of trauma and poverty and discovering positive paths forward,” says Stormy. “They realize they don’t have to become a statistic—that there are healthy options for managing anxiety and depression.” 

Our team connects with local agencies at a monthly meeting hosted by the Illinois Coalition for Community Services (ICCS) to coordinate support for East St. Louis youth. Clippers and Careers, a free five-hour life skills workshop designed for Wanda’s clients, developed out of a November session when she shared how young men in the FTWO program would benefit from more learning opportunities. “Clippers and Careers embodies our agency’s Blueprint for Impact,” says Stormy. “We intentionally collaborated at the community level with ICCS and our East St. Louis partners to meet the needs of youth in our program.”  

Clippers and Careers was held on Saturday, March 19, in a space donated by Da Beno. Nine youth attended, which was only a couple shy of Wanda’s caseload! The day kicked off with haircuts, courtesy of Champion Barber College. Afterwards, the barber students and their instructor spoke about the importance of grooming, highlighting the popular quote, “if you look good, you feel good,” emphasizing the positive impact personal hygiene has on one’s mental wellness. Next, participants learned about money management, thanks to a representative from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and then practiced their new skills with monopoly money. 

When one young man asked Stormy about the balloon decorations, she emphasized everyone was there to celebrate the guys. “He said, ‘Why? We’re on probation.’ I told him their past actions make up a small component of who they are,” Stormy remembers. “I made sure he understood we were there for THEM and listed the challenges he’d overcome. I told him how awesome it was that he showed up on a Saturday to invest in himself and his future.”  

“This young man was touched to hear how the community wanted the guys to succeed.” 
~ Stormy Tovar, Youth Services Supervisor 

Children’s Home & Aid provided lunch while the young men listened to a manager from Americold, a warehouse offering on-site training and certifications, as he shared how he once navigated the workforce after being involved in the legal system. He encouraged those interested in working for Americold to apply and provided his personal contact as a resource. Already, several youths have applied, and one has been hired so far! Then, the Fathers and Families Support Center talked about services their agency provides to parents. 

“I’ve been working with Americold for almost 90 days, and I plan to remain with the company for at least two years.” 
~ Clippers and Careers Youth Participant 

The day ended with a session facilitated by the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, an ESL community center offering services geared towards decreasing poverty, and the HR representative from Veolia Environmental Services. Prior to the session, Stormy shared what would be most helpful to cover, such as job readiness, soft skills, and how to prepare for behavior-based interviews. 

“Most of the youth struggle to identify their strengths,” says Stormy. “I appreciated the space our presenters allowed for these young men to explore and recognize their strengths,” Stormy reflects.  

The young men left with a suit, dress shirt, tie, and shoes to set them up for success; donated by the Fathers and Families Support Center. Veolia also donated laptop backpacks, and Wanda created certificates of completion to celebrate their accomplishments. “The presenters and staff didn’t have to do this,” one of the youth participants expresses. “I want to make them and myself proud.”

Clippers and Careers generated an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. “Our partners felt energized and inspired by our young people,” notes Stormy. “And the youth expressed how meaningful it was for so many adults to show up and believe in them,” Stormy says. “I’m proud to be part of an agency that encourages creative, community-based collaborations like these.”

“Our partnership with Children’s Home & Aid is phenomenal. Their staff show the utmost commitment, respect, and care for youth they serve. We look forward to more collaborations.”   
~ Rhonda Currie, Field Supervisor, Illinois Coalition for Community Services (ICCS)  

What’s Next? 

We’re building on the momentum of Clippers and Careers to host future events for youth once or twice a year. Stormy is also organizing an event for high schoolers who are navigating similar issues. Wanda is focusing on monthly life skills workshops for smaller groups of FTWO youth. “Clippers and Careers helped the guys to feel like they’re not alone as they attempt to become productive citizens,” she says. “I want the kids to let me know when they need more information. Then I hope to pull in different community partners to share their stories and offer guidance on that topic.” 

If you would like to support our youth services, make a donation online or contact Stormy Tovar at 

“I learned how to ask potential employers about their company to see if I’m interested in working there.”
~ Clippers and Careers Youth Participant