What we did
Keeping young people involved during a crisis
The pandemic shut down traditional rites of passage for youth across the United States. In Chicago, the crisis inspired the city to create a new youth program—the Chicago Youth Service Corps (CYSC)—both to encourage civic engagement and to provide a sense of normalcy to participants, with a virtual graduation ceremony at the end of the season.
In partnership with One Summer Chicago, Slalom provided project management and program development support for the CYSC, a civic-service-oriented jobs program. Twenty different partners came together—including the library and the parks department—to create over 2,000 opportunities that focused on community service. Some jobs naturally aligned with helping the city respond to the pandemic. All opportunities aimed to provide Chicago’s young people with access to the skills and tools they need to contribute to their city.
Many programs, five guiding principles
Slalom helped participating organizations create new work programs and evolve existing ones so that every option in the CYSC covered the same guiding principles. The pillars include “Shape Chicago” through civic leadership; “Build Your Community and City” by making a bigger impact through collaboration; “Learn to Lead, Lead to Learn” and improve CYSC programming through feedback and leadership; “Elevate Your Voice” to explore identities, passions, and goals; and finally, “Celebrate Yourself and Others” by honoring everyone’s diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Since the pandemic necessitated that a portion of the jobs remain virtual, Slalom helped design the online aspect of the program too.
Making friends, building teams
One participant, 19-year-old Ethan Norwood—a future clinical social worker and a University of Illinois student—worked as a representative for Companies That Care, one of the partner organizations in the CYSC. During the six-week program, Norwood facilitated readings and led discussions. When they focused on the “Elevate Your Voice” theme, they talked about activism and voting.
This was Norwood’s second year working as a liaison for Companies That Care, but his first experience working virtually. “I didn’t think I’d make friends over Zoom,” he says. But he did, and plans on meeting up with colleagues in person when circumstances allow. One of his biggest takeaways this year was learning that “you can’t do anything without a team. If you try to do everything on your own, you get overwhelmed real quick,” he says.
In other programs, young people checked in with seniors over the phone, made masks, and participated in a National Geographic-funded “social distance ambassador” program for the parks department. There were capstone projects and a virtual graduation ceremony.
Giving back to youth
“We wanted it to be a special thing for youth,” says Chris Kelly, Slalom lead consultant on the project. “There was recognition throughout the whole time that the kids have already faced a lot. They’re missing major milestones they’ve worked for. It’s not just about learning the skills, but knowing that you can apply them, and teach friends and family, and build a better future.”