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Gifts from Colonel Jennifer Pritzker and the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation will give Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) a significant jump-start in building a new headquarters at 1911 Church St., just west of Dodge Avenue. The two local philanthropists are joining together to contribute more than $2.5 million in property and cash to support Y.O.U. in its youth-development activities.
Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U., said the organization’s present location at 1027 Sherman Ave. is dilapidated and insufficient for their needs. The new headquarters will offer transformative learning spaces for youth, office space for Y.O.U. staff, and opportunities for collaboration among youth-serving agencies.
Col. Pritzker is providing a gift valued at $1.5 million in support for the project, including donating the now vacant land at 1911 Church St. to Y.O.U. and making a generous cash gift. The Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation is providing $1 million in additional financial support.
Y.O.U. currently serves approximately 700 students in its after-school programs. It has operated the programs at Nichols and Chute middle schools since the 1990s, and expanded to Oakton and Washington elementary schools in 2003. Recently, the program expanded to Dawes, King Arts Magnet School and to Lincoln Junior High in Skokie. It is establishing a “community school” at Chute.
Mr. Green told the RoundTable, “We will continue to serve all of our kids in their schools. There’s a total commitment to the community school model.” Program space at the new building, however, will offer students opportunities that currently do not exist at the schools.
As an example, Mr. Green said the new building would have a “maker lab.” He said research led by Penny Sebring shows that exploratory, interactive maker labs can be highly effective in engaging youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Some students in Y.O.U.’s after-school program will be transported to the Church Street building to take advantage of the learning opportunities provided by these labs or by other experiential learning spaces in the building.
Mr. Green also said Y.O.U. will host some family nights at the new building and host some activities there that cannot be provided at its current space.
Y.O.U. envisions that the new space will be used by other non-profit agencies that serve youth in the community. Mr. Green said Y.O.U. will use parts of the building at specific hours during the day. “Our goal is to have lots of other organizations able to utilize the space because it’s located in the heart of the community across the street from the high school,” he said. “One of the big goals is to try to design the space in a way to meet the needs of other organizations. We hope that it will truly empower collaboration.
“It’s also an expectation of the philanthropists that this space be used as much as possible and to try to bring in as many groups as possible to better the community,” Mr. Green added.
Y.O.U. presented preliminary plans for using the Church Street site as its headquarters at a Fifth Ward meeting in March. “We were very warmly received and are enormously appreciative of the residents and Ald. Holmes,” said Mr. Green. “We would love to come back to a ward meeting to invite continued feedback and to share what we’re envisioning. We want to make sure that the community voice is part of the process.”
Y.O.U. says its next stage will be to develop plans for the building and construction. It is planning focus groups with youth and staff, collaborative meetings with community stakeholders, and observational visits to peer agencies’ youth spaces as part of its design process. Y.O.U. will also contine to fundraise for this project with the hope to occupy the new building by the summer of 2016.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “The generosity of Jennifer Pritzker and the Lewis-Sebring family is wonderful news for the young people Y.O.U. serves, wonderful news for the neighborhood, and wonderful news for the entire City.”
Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes added, “It is always heartwarming when there is an investment made in this part of our community. I am pleased and excited for Y.O.U as they expand services for youth and families made possible by these generous donations.”
Superintendent Eric Witherspoon of District 202, said, “Y.O.U. is a core partner in ETHS’ efforts to realize equity and excellence. We are truly excited by the prospect of having Y.O.U.’s headquarters across the street, and grateful to the philanthropists who are helping to make this vision possible.”
“We truly admire the commitment of Col. Pritzker and the Lewis-Sebring family to our Evanston community,” said Mr. Green. “With their support and that of many others in our community, we look forward to realizing a transformational new headquarters for Y.O.U. and the youth and families we serve.”
Col. Pritzker is an Evanston resident. The Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation is tied to three families which have long called Evanston their home: Chuck Lewis and Penny Sebring, Peter and Rachel Lewis, and Casey Lewis Varela and George Varela. Peter Lewis is a member of the Y.O.U. board.