City officials and community leaders kicked off the summer with a Safe Summer Summit and a commitment to keep children safe. This is the next in a series of articles about institutions and organizations in Evanston that support youth.

A big theme of the City this summer was to prevent violence. The James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, an organization the provides pro bono legal work and social work to low-income Evanston youth, has been working to help rehabilitate those kids who have gotten in trouble with the law. It has been doing so for more than 20 years.

“Our vision is for all the young people in Evanston to be law abiding citizens with bright futures,” said executive director Naria K. Santa Lucia. “How do we help kids stay out of trouble? If they get in trouble, how do we move them forward so they are not moved back in trouble?”

Recently the Moran Center has seen an uptick in the number of cases they receive, rising in three years from 70 to 270. “That has a lot to do with marketing and forming relationships,” Ms. Santa Lucia said. “But I think it has a lot to do with a lot of hopelessness with the kids.”

“What I’ve seen as a social worker is them [the kids] coming and reporting to me about things that are planned to happen but they can’t really do anything about it,” said Kristen Kennard, director of social work services. “It’s a sense of survival in their eyes.”

The Summer Summit

Ms. Santa Lucia represented the Moran Center in the Mayor’s Summer Summit in April. Both she and Ms. Kennard think the City and Evanston organizations have put a lot of good activities in place to keep kids off the streets, but Ms. Santa Lucia thinks more could be done. She said the City should use the recreational activities they have in place to teach skill building.

 “[We should] using [use] those recreational activities to teach things like goal setting, anger management, job skills, getting mentorship opportunities and making connections in the community,” said Ms. Santa Lucia. “Because those are the things that are going to keep kids going.” Ms. Santa Lucia also said she thinks the community needs to continue to collaborate like they did in the summer summit.

Programs at the Moran Center

The Moran Center offers many programs for low-income youth, such as Full Life Future Planning, which focuses on goal setting.  They also worked with Evanston Township High School to try and offer alternatives to suspension. However, the main part of the organization is offering legal work and social work free of charge.  In order to get legal work from the Moran Center, however, clients must also meet with the social worker, Ms. Kennard, once a week. “Our biggest mission is to get them [the clients] through probation successfully and without recidivism,” she said.

In her social work, Ms. Kennard said that she found that it helps for these kids to just have someone to trust. “I do try to show them [the kids] what I see in them and their potential. Once I think they start to realize that there is hope and that they can be predictive citizens and they can go places, I think their mindset starts to change,” she said.

Ms. Kennard said the Center does a good job of following their clients, and once they turn 18, the center tries to convince the kids to file for expungement of their records. “There’s this whole misconception in this community that if you’re a juvenile or a kid then your record is expunged automatically, but its not,” Ms. Santa Lucia said.

Looking Forward

As the Moran Center continues to help juveniles who have had run-ins with the law, they commend the city on what has and is being done this summer to try and stop the violence. “I think the things that have been implemented [by the city] have helped,” Ms. Kennard said. “I think we have a longer way to go, but I think they [the programs] have made a difference from where the summer could have gone compared to where it has gone.”