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Part I of a series
City Council members attended a special meeting on July 19 for a presentation about the City’s programs for youth.

What they heard was that the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the library, and even the Police Department have programs that engage, enrich and support youth from birth to about age 18 in their journeys to becoming productive citizens.

They also heard though, that many of those aged 18 to 25 who have dropped out of high school or, though they have graduated, have not gone to college or found a job, and are falling through holes in the City’s safety nets. The presentations did not address whether this is because the supports for youth of this age are scarcer, or because they, already somewhat disengaged from mainstream society, do not avail themselves of the resources.

Two goals in the City’s strategic plan, adopted in 2007, formed the basis for the Youth Engagement Program (YEP): “[to] generate] marketable skills for Evanston residents” and “providing opportunities for and [to] engag[e] Evanston youth and young adults to become active and productive citizens of the Evanston community.” The Youth Engagement Program, according to the City, was developed to focus on three areas: recreation, job training and placement, and restorative justice.Recreation

Doug Gaynor, director of the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department said his department’s Recreation Board asks, “How can we not afford recreation options for our Evanston youth?” He described the many recreation programs the City offers, such as its summer camps, aquatics programs (kayaking and canoeing), ice skating and hockey programs. The City partners with School District 65 and School District 202, holding swim nights at the high school and sharing facilities with District 65 during the summer when possible, Mr. Gaynor said.

More than 4,600 Evanston youth participate in recreation programs in partnership with the City: Evanston Baseball and Softball Association, COE-MOMS and COE-POPS, Evanston Youth Lacrosse Association, FAAM (Fellowship of Afro American Men), Evanston Youth Hockey Association, AYSO soccer, Team Evanston Soccer and Evanston Speed Skating Club. Those organizations provide coaches (892 of them), handle registration, and recruit and train volunteers, while the City provides the venues for the sports, Mr. Gaynor said. Were the City to provide these programs wholly on its own, he said, participation fees would increase, as would other costs to the City.

The City also offers inclusion services – that is, support for participation in regular programs – for about 200 families, Mr. Gaynor said, and about 200 children participate in special recreation programs.

The City typically has more than 16,000 hours of field rentals each year, Mr. Gaynor said. “The tremendous participation in non-organized physical activities can only be estimated. There is a large and unquantifiable use of Evanston’s outdoor courts and fields in organized sports, as well as park and playground usage,” he added.

While field trips and cultural arts programs provide enrichment, the free summer lunch program – an extension of the federal free school lunch program – provides nourishment weekdays during the summer months. Last year, 35,710 meals were served, approximately 900 per day, Mr. Gaynor said.Job Training and Placement

Mr. Gaynor stressed the importance of offering jobs and job training to youth. He provided information that said the “average age of detained youth in Illinois is 16-17” and that the annual cost in 2008 of incarcerating a 17-year old in the minimum-security Illinois Youth Center in Chicago was $76,000 – and $96,000 in a medium-security facility. The cost to the taxpayers – in actual dollars as well as in social costs – of employing youth is far less.

Lehman Walker, Community and Economic Development Director, said this year the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) provided jobs for more than 142 Evanston youth. Another group of about 40 youth are employed through the “Put Illinois to Work” program. Since its inception in 1992, the SYEP has received more than 6,000 applications for jobs. The City has employed about 2,700 youth over the years, and some have received jobs in the private sector through the SYEP. He said, though, the City should work on developing more partners in local businesses to hire youth, look for additional funding and explore the possibility of making this a year-round program.

The City’s Youth Coordinator, Sol Anderson, said his office also focuses on job referrals for youth as part of the Evanston Youth Initiative.Evanston Youth Initiative

The third aspect of the City’s Youth Engagement Programs is the Evanston Youth Initiative (YEI), composed of programs targeting disengaged and at-risk youth. YEI staff refer youth and families to support services in Evanston and hold a youth summit at Evanston Township High School each year.

This aspect of the City’s youth program seemed to evoke the most concern from City Council. Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, asked how it benefited disengaged youth. “What do you think youth in Evanston have to say about this program?” he asked. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she had asked to speak to the Youth Council, which plans the youth summit and other activities, but had had no response. “I would like to talk with them,” she said. Neither question nor comment received a direct response.Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is based on the concept that, since a crime harms the community as well as the immediate victim, the community, the victim and the perpetrator of the crime can work together to mitigate the harm and restore harmony to the community. “It’s an opportunity where the victim, offender and the community work to address the harm that was done,” Mr. Anderson said.

At present, the restorative justice programs are administered through the Police Department and Evanston Township High School. At ETHS, the peer jury program has about 30 volunteer student jurors, and about 70 youth have been referred to the program. Also at the high school, the ETHS Community Accountability Board “helps the more than 100 chronically truant youth,” according to the City.