Even Before Moving in, Y.O.U. Seeks to Be a Good Neighbor

By: Mary Helt Gavin, Evanston RoundTable
Published: December 3, 2014

Youth Organizations Umbrella, a long-time resident of 1027 Sherman Ave., across the street from Nichols Middle School, is growing. Started 43 years ago as a center for youth, the organization now has programs in eight schools, seven in Evanston and one in Skokie, where students can get help with homework and then enjoy sports, creative activities, etc., for three hours after school.

"We meet youth where they are," said Seth Green, executive director of Y.O.U. The Evanston schools are Evanston Township High School, Washington, Oakton and Dawes elementary schools, Nichols and Chute middle schools and King Arts K-8.

As far back as 2009, Y.O.U. began planning to move, Mr. Green told residents at the Nov. 20 Fifth Ward meeting, but the recent recession stalled the project. A recent gift of property and resources from Colonel Jennifer Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises will allow Y.O.U. to build a new headquarters at 1911 Church St. Other donations have augmented Ms. Pritzker’s gift, so the organization is about half way to its $4 million goal.

"More than a year ago, Tawani came [to a Fifth Ward meeting] and said they had bought the property," said Alderman Delores Holmes, who convenes a monthly Fifth Ward meeting. Since that time, "we’ve not heard from them. We do know they bought the property and donated it to Y.O.U," she said, adding she had invited Mr. Green "to describe what Y.O.U. intends to do."

"We want to be good neighbors," Mr. Green said to the residents. "We know that part of being in a community means listening," he added. For that reason, Y.O.U. held a "listening session" at Family Focus the week before, he said, and came to the Fifth Ward meeting to hear neighbors’ concerns and their visions for the building.

Most Y.O.U. activities take place in the schools, so the new building will have space on the first floor for special activities; at present a maker lab for workshops and demonstrations and a culinary therapy kitchen are planned. The second floor will have office space.

The move is necessary, said Mr. Green, because "we’re at our limit." On a yearly basis, he said, Y.O.U. serves 1,200 students and touches 3,000 family members. About 60% of the students are black, 25-30% are Latino, and 10-15% are white or Asian, he said. Of those 85% are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. The student-to-staff ratio is 7 to 1. With the new building, Y.O.U. will be able to reach out to more youth and offer more opportunities to all the youth, he said.

"We will be in the building between 3 and 7 p.m. and would love it to be vital all day," Mr. Green said, adding, "We are eager to have your views on what you would like to see in the building."

Many residents at the meeting seemed more eager to hear about Y.O.U.’s plans than to make suggestions.

Y.O.U. will apply for tax-exempt status for the 1911 Church St. property once the purchase is completed, Mr. Green said. Referring to the parking lot on the southeast corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue, he said Y.O.U. will do some landscaping and make sure "it is maintained and available to residents and ETHS." There will be a handicap parking space in front of the building, he said.

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