Youth Organizations Umbrella Plans Move to New Headquarters Next Year

By: Benjamin Din, The Daily Northwestern
Published: April 7, 2015

Youth Organizations Umbrella will relocate its headquarters to a new facility across the street from Evanston Township High School.

The local youth development agency is currently working on the design for its new facility, which will be located at 1911 Church St., said Seth Green, the agency’s executive director. The expected completion date for the project is September 2016.

Tawani Enterprises, an investment group led by local billionaire Jennifer Pritzker, donated the lot on Church Street as well as a separate parking lot to Y.O.U., Green said. Tawani Enterprises and the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation both contributed funds to the project, he said.

The planned two-story facility will span 10,000 to 12,000 square feet, Green said. Although the building will have office space for each staff member, he said there will still be Y.O.U. staff embedded at school sites throughout the city.

Green said Y.O.U. began exploring the possibility of a new facility in the fall of 2012 with the two main goals of providing a gathering space for its staff and engaging its students in hands-on learning.

“The core idea of Y.O.U. is empowerment through opportunity and experiential learning,” he said. “The building will really be a gateway to that kind of transformative learning that happens beyond school.”

There will be three main spaces in the facility for youth programming: a maker lab, a demonstration kitchen and an outdoor garden.

Modeled on YOUmedia, a digital youth center in Chicago, the maker lab will feature state-of-the-art technology and engaged learning opportunities. Y.O.U. is also involved in the MetaMedia Youth Center, a similar space that recently opened at the McGaw YMCA, 1000 Grove St.

“We see our space as a level playing field for youth in Evanston,” Jesse Chatz, the outreach specialist at the YMCA, told The Daily in February. “Any middle school kid that comes into our space we’ll welcome with open arms.”

Because the MetaMedia Youth Center is focused on middle school youth, the maker lab will focus more on high school students, Green said. However, the space will still house youth programming for all ages.

“It will be a place for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics,” said Ellen Muench, Y.O.U.’s manager of program innovation. “It’ll be the same kind of space (as MetaMedia) where kids can tinker and learn while doing.”

The demonstration kitchen will be used for a culinary therapy program, where youth can cook and share a meal while reflecting and coming to terms with past traumas, Green said.

“What we’ve learned is there’s a lot of learning – social, emotional and academic – that can happen in a really well-designed kitchen,” Green said.

Youth will also have the opportunity to harvest their own vegetables and fruits in the facility’s outdoor garden, Muench said. The garden, which will be directly connected to the kitchen, will allow students to explore the outdoors and learn about science.

The process for the project has been “highly collaborative,” with Y.O.U. working with outside organizations like the McGaw YMCA and Northwestern, Muench said. The youth, Y.O.U.’s community partners, the neighborhood around the facility and Y.O.U.’s staff are all invited to be involved in developing the new space as well, Green said.

Ultimately, Green said he hopes the new facility will be seen as a community space.

“Our goal is square-foot impact, he said. “We want every square foot of this new building to be impacting as many people in our community as positively as possible.”

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