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Evanston’s 150th looks ahead with 10 big ideas

Wed, Nov 13, 2013

Career pathways for youth summit just one way to make city better

The Youth Job Center training program partners with Jewel as in top photo, and also District 65 (center photo) and Allied Barton Security Services. (Youth Job Center photos)

The Youth Job Center training program partners with Jewel as in top photo, and also District 65 (center photo) and Allied Barton Security Services. (Youth Job Center photos)

Evanston celebrates its 150th anniversary this year by looking forward – not back — with 10 ideas for its future. These ideas range from early childhood experiences for all, to a community health center, to workforce development for “opportunity youth.”

“The whole philosophy of the celebration and the efforts is really to improve the quality of life and make this a more enjoyable place to live, work and play,” said Evanston150 steering committee member Jay Lytle, a former mayor and current managing director of First Bank &Trust Evanston. “We came very quickly to the conclusion that we wanted to do something that would have lasting impact.”

“We wanted something that looked forward rather than to the past because we are a progressive community,” said fellow steering committee member Sara Schastok, president and CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation. “Also, knowing the past was not inclusive, you can celebrate the past but what are you celebrating? We liked the idea of looking to the future, building on the traditions of people who are here.”
Barry Lundberg is also an Evanston150 steering committee member and coordinator of the October 25 conference, “Creating Career Pathways for Evanston’s Opportunity Youth,” which will be at Northwestern University. Lundberg is project leader for the Evanston150 “Learn to Work and Work to Learn” idea, which he said could become a national model for helping people age 16 to 24 who are out of school and out of work. These young people used to be called “at-risk youth” and then “disconnected youth,” he said, but have been termed “opportunity youth” since a White House conference two years ago chaired by Michelle Obama.

The age range for opportunity youth could even extend to sophomores, juniors and seniors who are struggling and may drop out of high school next month, Lundberg said. And it could range as high as 28, for students who graduate, but do not go on to a job or post-secondary education.

EV 150-your ideasThe Harvard Graduate School of Education’s William Symonds, founder of the Pathways Institute, has written about the “forgotten half” of American students who do not go on to college. And in “Pathways to Prosperity,” Symonds notes that many high school students struggle academically and still others drop out of school because they find it boring and irrelevant to creating a successful life.

Symonds, who will keynote the October 25 conference, advocates creating alternative educational pathways in blue-collar fields such as construction, manufacturing and natural resources. Especially as Baby Boomers retire, earning a post-secondary credential in these areas, “as opposed to a B.A. – is often the ticket to a well-paying and rewarding career.”

“Who would have thought I could get a good job working outside climbing on poles working with a bunch of guys,” Lundberg said of communications company linemen jobs that pay six figures. “Or manufacturing: ‘I thought that was muscle-bound guys.’ We have to open up minds of kids and parents and educators and schools about how to find these pathways, show what’s possible, connect learning and work and training to the careers of the future and help the kids make that connection. Then they can get more interested in what they are learning from school if they can make that connection.”

Another speaker at the October 25 conference will be Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable. Mays has created an Illinois Pathways Initiative that builds on local school-business partnerships and seeks to link classroom learning to real world applications through better curriculum, guidance counseling, mentoring and work-based learning. Karin Norington-Reaves, CEO of the Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership in charge of federal Workforce Initiative Act money, is also slated to attend. Other invitees include employers and representatives of Evanston Township High School, the Youth Job Center, Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella), Oakton Community College and the city’s apprenticeship program. Curt’s Café, a non-profit that trains youth in food service and life skills, will provide lunch.

“We’re not naïve enough to think in one day we will have a gold-plated perfect action plan that everyone’s bought into,” Lundberg said. Still, he said he hopes the conference will seek to engage employers as part of the solution and that it will also ask how to better connect opportunity youth to the community through service and mentorship. He said he also expects to have prioritized the most important questions and a road map for carrying them forward: to have laid the groundwork for stakeholders to achieve a collective impact.

“Little and Learning” and “Here’s to Our Health” are still other Evanston150 ideas where the anniversary celebration has helped the community work not in silos but systemically, to become a place where families thrive, said Marybeth Schroeder, vice president of programs at the Evanston Community Foundation and an Evanston150 steering committee member.

Little and Learning is considering seeking to raise more local funds so that families can afford early childhood education, Schroeder said. In some cases, this will help mothers who earn too much to qualify for subsidies and in others, mothers whose income is too little.

The Youth Job Center training program partners with Jewel as in top photo, and also District 65 (center photo) and Allied Barton Security Services. (Youth Job Center photos)

The Youth Job Center training program partners with Jewel as in top photo, and also District 65 (center photo) and Allied Barton Security Services. (Youth Job Center photos)

“The core idea of Little and Learning is that every child in Evanston should have access to early childhood education, which has been proven over and over in many national studies to have a long-term positive impact on children and their family educationally, socially and emotionally,” Schroeder said. She cited the [James] Heckman Equation of the Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economics professor, which says that investing in education of disadvantaged children under age 5 and nurturing their cognitive/social development pays dividends to the nation throughout their education and working lives. Among his evidence for this is the Perry Preschool Project, which followed a cohort for 40 years and showed lower dropout rates, lower criminal activity and higher income among those with this investment.

Here’s to Our Health, a long-desired project in the community, is a federally qualified health center that can offer medical, dental and preventive care regardless of people’s ability to pay. With City support, Erie Family Health Center brought a family health center to Evanston. Clients may have private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare or Kids Care. The likelihood is that with more people insured via the Affordable Care Act next year, demand for services will increase, Schroeder said.

Now located at 2100 Ridge Ave. in the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, the health center is soon to relocate to 1285 Hartrey, where it will have 15 exam rooms, five dental operatories and a behavioral health suite. Prenatal and full primary care will be available through Erie Family Health Center. Both local hospitals have agreed to provide specialty care. At full capacity, the center is expected to serve 5,500 people annually from Evanston and Skokie.

Planning for Evanston150 started in 2008 after Schastok and Evanston History Center Archivest Lori Osborn started talking about a meaningful way to celebrate the upcoming sesquicentennial. Schastok remembered a similar effort she had heard in Dubuque, IA and called Lytle. Together they put together a group from the Evanston Community Foundation, Evanston History Center and the Evanston Public Library, Northwestern University and representatives from other local organizations, which formed a steering committee that went to community members in search of 2,013 ideas.

Starting in August 2011, a selection jury chosen name-blind but according to city demographics “funneled down” the 2000-plus ideas into a cluster of 100. On an October weekend, interested community members met in a theater to rank them, taking them in 20 groups of five. The selection jury further narrowed down 30 suggestions into Ten Big Ideas introduced on November 11, 2011: 11/11/11.
The Black Tie and Blue Jeans event emphasized the celebration but also getting down to work, Schastok said. After local Commedia dell’arte players and a youth trumpet ensemble carried the elaborately packaged ideas to 10 tables and helped unwrap them, grassroots volunteers sat down where they wanted to work. There was one progress report in June 2012 and another is expected near Evanston’s official 150th anniversary December 29.

By Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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