Evanston kids sparkle in Y.O.U. Summer Showcase

By: Bob Seidenberg, Chicago Tribune
Published:  August 11, 2015

Wearing a blue latex glove and wielding a can of spray paint, 9-year-old Evanston resident Zara Robinson began etching the letters of her name in pink on an eight-foot-plus plywood board set up behind the Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) headquarters on Sherman Avenue last Thursday.

Her father, Taries Robinson, an instructor in the program, stood to the side, steadying his daughter and offering advice on mural making.

"That's how you fill it in," he said, taking hold of the paint canister with her and filling in some of the gaps between letters.

The father-daughter team were among an estimated 500 family and community members and 165 area youths at Y.O.U.'s Summer Showcase at Nichols Middle School, 800 Greenleaf St.

Guests toured the school grounds and experienced first hand some of the projects students worked on during Y.O.U.'s no-cost, daily, nine week summer program.

In one classroom, members of a cooking class, including Malachi Barrett, a student at Washington School, school, and Natalia Fleming, who attends Dawes School, handed out samples of fresh bruschetta.

In the class, the young cooks started with fruit kabobs and then progressed through a series of recipes, said Katherin Halpern, one of the instructors.

They were also presented with challenges, such as coming up with a dish using Doritos and a maximum of three ingredients, she said.

One group made a mango salsa with nachos. Another came up with a potato hash with an apple onion puree, recalled Halpern.

Across the street, behind Y.O.U. building at 1027 Sherman, members of the Urban Elements class, which included a spoken word-poetry component, were finishing work, etching their names on the mural.

During the course, participants learned basic art fundamentals working on the mural, including sizing, proportion, layout, said Hussein Ally, one of the instructors.

"Ultimately, the idea was to try to give kids a new way of being able to express themselves freely without feeling judged or being criticized about what they think or how they feel or what they say," he said.

The course also went a little into the history of hip-hop, trying to instill in the youngsters "where they are from, their communities — just like representing who you are," said Adam Gottlieb, who taught the spoken word part of the class.

Behind the mural makers, a group of student gardeners were showing off their collard greens, squash, kelp and big bulbs of garlic more robust than the usual supermarket variety.

Students in the group learned about pollination, the names of plants, what is and isn't edible, said Katherine Egan, their instructor and a member of the Talking Farm urban farming program in Skokie.

"They learned to eat a lot of weeds like wood sorrel," she said.

Danielle Williams, whose daughter is in the class, asked what was going to happen to the collard greens with the program ending.

"At the end of the tour we can eat them," replied Egan.

Williams was happy with what her daughter, Mia Williams, took out of the experience. Working with the gardening group, she was engaged in her subject and came up with cooking ideas too.

For a summer experience, "You can't beat that,'' her mother said.

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