Kevin Brown

By all accounts the City’s Youth and Young Adult Programs Division has received high marks. Kevin Brown has overseen the program for the last seven years, and has hired six outreach workers who reach out to at-risk youth and young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 and attempt to serve them in a holistic manner, often in partnership with other agencies and community organizations.

In a recent survey, residents were asked to “select the 10 programs that you believe to be the most important for the City to provide.” The Youth and Young Adult Services Department ranked second highest out of a list of more than 50 City programs.

“We have helped thousands of young people to obtain employment , housing, health care/mental health care, and scholarships and educational opportunities through collaborative connections,” said Mr. Brown.

An important part of the program is to stem violence in the community by connecting young adults with job opportunities and other supports. “The Chief of Police has said on numerous occasions that that effort has made a positive difference in the safety of our community,” said Mr. Brown.

On Oct. 9, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told members of City Council and the Directors of City departments  in an email about his plan to split up the team. While saying he has “always been impressed by the program,” he is proposing the following:

  • “Promote” Mr. Brown to the role of Workforce Development Manager in the Community Development Department to guide the efforts of Mayor Stephen Hagerty’s “Elevate Evanston” initiative to specifically focus on workforce development. Mr. Bobkiewicz says, “Mr. Brown has distinguished himself with his passion and excellent work in this area and I believe devoting his full time attention to workforce development and the ‘Elevate Evanston’ initiative will greatly benefit the community.”
  • Transfer the balance of the team to be managed by Fleetwood Jourdain Center Recreation Manager Ken Cherry. Mr. Bobkiewicz says two staff members make this shift possible, Nathan Norman and Porschia Davis, who he says “run the youth outreach and Summer Youth programs.” He says “both have developed into outstanding leaders in the past several years.”

Mr. Bobkiewicz says the change “results in no reduction in budget to any of these programs.”

Mr. Brown told the RoundTable that no one talked to him about the changes before they were proposed.  While he speaks very highly of Mr. Norman and Ms. Davis, who have been on his team for years, he said, “The question I would have is, ‘If something is not broken, what are we trying to fix by dismantling a program? If the youth division is a solid program, it’s doing well,  it’s got a track record, I guess the question would be, ‘Why wouldn’t we enhance it?’ That would be my question.

“My team and I believe that enhancing the program would better serve the community as a whole.”

The Youth Served and Holistic Programs

Mr. Brown says he defines at-risk youth as “opportunity youth,” and he uses the definition used by the federal government, which is individuals between 16 and 24 years of age who are both out of school and out of work.

“Essentially we’re talking about people who basically just lack opportunities and what we try to do is connect them with resources,” he said.

There are between 2,000 and 3,000 opportunity youth in Evanston in any given year, said Mr. Brown. He says his team’s clients are not engaged in criminal activity, but they are around it. About 50% of the people his team  encounters are at risk of a gang lifestyle.  About 80 to 85% have experienced “real trauma” and show evidence of post-traumatic stress.

Many of the youth know people who have been killed or shot or live in neighborhoods where shootings have occurred and where shots are fired. Some are victims of violence, racism or sexism, or have been mistakenly stopped by the police. Some are stressed because they lack stable housing, or lack mental health and health care services, he said.

An important part of each outreach worker’s job is to identify potential clients through school and agency referrals and through street outreach – by visiting local hang-outs, community centers and recreation centers, said Mr. Brown.

If a youth decides to participate in the program, the outreach worker works with the youth to figure out what the youth’s needs are, and then develops a program to meet those needs. These services may be provided by another member of the outreach team or by partnering organizations, but the outreach worker who made the initial contact remains the point person and keeps in regular contact with the youth or young adult. Building trust with the youth and young adults is critical.

Each outreach worker has a caseload of about 30 youth, which does not include the people who just need a job or need someone to help them with a resume or take them to a job interview.

One key part of the program is to address each client’s needs in a holistic fashion. Mr. Brown gave an example where a young high school graduate had basic needs including health care, housing, employment and job training. “He took advantage of several of our programs, and we were able to focus on him in a holistic way and not just tell him to go to six different places and, ‘That’s how your problem is going to be solved.’”

The young man now has a permanent position at Northwestern University.

Currently Mr. Brown’s division manages three main employment programs. Porschia Davis, assistant program coordinator, manages the Mayor’s Summer Youth Job Program;  and outreach workers solicit businesses to provide job opportunities for youth who participate. Last summer, 40 employers hired more than 500 employees for the summer.

Since 2012, between 20 and 25 youth, 18-25 years old, have participated in Career Pathways each year. In this program about 150 youth have received paid on-the-job training opportunities, and 80% of them have obtained permanent employment at the end of their internships.

More than 500 people have participated in the Certificate of Rehabilitation program which helps youth to seal or partially seal or expunge criminal records. “It’s a very necessary and critical program because it enables individuals who would have been barred from employment and sometimes from housing to be able to get employment and housing,” said Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown said the team is also working with more than 45 local businesses, including Northwestern University, NorthShore University Health Systems, and Presence Health, to serve opportunity youth. As an example, he said he meets with Presence Health to learn about what their workforce needs are and how the division’s clients might fit in. His team places clients with these employers when possible.

He is already working with Neil Gambow, who is heading up the Mayor’s Elevate Evanston program, said Mr. Brown. He describes Mr. Gambow as “a fantastic ex-CEO” who has already done a great amount of work.

 “Right now we have a lot of opportunities. We’ve got a good program. We serve a lot of people. If the City wants to serve more people in workforce development,  let’s just add more resources and opportunities to what we currently have.”

Violence Interruption

“Our team has conducted numerous instances of violence interruption” and “have partnered with three national street outreach and violence interruption programs – RECAP, Cease Fire and Chicago Violence Interrupters – to help Evanston streets to remain safe,” said Mr. Brown, who is an attorney and who has trained with each of the groups. “The street outreach program is part of a comprehensive best practices government model.”

In an effort to reduce violence in the community, the outreach workers attempt to develop mentoring relationships with the highest risk clients and connect them to appropriate services and resources; they are present at crime scenes to mediate hostile situations and to attempt to prevent retaliation; and they have mediated disputes between various factions.  

“After a shooting, our team goes to the scene and really attempts to establish what we call a ‘cool down’ period. We try to locate individuals who are in the neighborhood to talk about what may have occurred and offer alternatives to retaliation,” said Mr. Brown.

As an example, he said, the team was called to the scene after the gang-related  shooting on Sept. 20 on Custer Avenue one block north of Howard Street.  

Protect the Holistic Approach

 Mr.  Brown says keeping the outreach workers, the workforce development program and the summer job program within the Youth and Young Adult Programs Division will enable the team to work more effectively and to address their clients’ needs in a holistic fashion and  obtain more successful results.   

One common need of many opportunity youth is the need for a job. They may have many other needs too, including stable housing, additional education, health care or mental health care, or food. All of these needs must be addressed holistically to give a youth the best chance of succeeding.

Mr. Brown says dividing the team into two or three different departments will reduce the team’s ability to address their clients’ needs in a holistic fashion. “I want to avoid the negative effect of not having a holistic view regarding wrap-around services because these are the most vulnerable people, and they need a support system that centers around them,  instead of having them go to two, or three or four different places to meet their needs.”

In addition, the team of people working in the Youth and Young Adult Division know many at-risk youth in Evanston who need a job, and they know the skills and interests of those youth.

The same team has developed relationships with 45 major employers in Evanston through the workforce program and the Mayor’s Summer Youth Job Program. They know the types of jobs each employer can offer, and the type of training that is available.  

By keeping both functions within the same division, they can better match youth seeking jobs with employers. By keeping the two functions within the same division, the two functions would be better aligned and obtain better results for the youth in Evanston, said Mr. Brown.

One possibility is to house the Mayor’s  Elevate Evanston initiative within the Youth and Young Adult Division. Another Mayoral employment initiative, the Mayor’s Summer Youth Job program, has been housed in the division for many years and has grown there.

Mr. Brown also expressed concern that the program may simply die a slow death by dismantling. If the team is split up into different departments, each of which is subject to its own budget, the priorities may change. “At Fleetwood there may be competing objectives or competing responsibilities.” If the outreach workers are moved to Fleetwood, they may be shifted “into recreational activities, rather than outreach.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward) told the RoundTable that the Youth and Young Adult Division has served an important role since its inception in helping to “calm down violence” in the City; and it provides “too valuable a service” to dismantle. He said earlier this year, City staff identified more than 50  City programs that might possibly be cut or eliminated to balance the budget, including the Youth and Young Adult Services and the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program . He moved to remove those two programs from the list, and aldermen voted unanimously to remove the division from the chopping block.  

“I’m very disappointed that the City Manager did not consult myself or any of the aldermen” about the proposal to dismantle the division, Ald. Braithwaite said.

The proposal to split up the team will likely be discussed during the City’s budget discussions.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...