Evanston service organizations launch collaborative mentoring effort

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

About 60 people gathered in the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on Tuesday to celebrate the launch of Evanston Mentors, a collective of the city’s mentoring organizations. The new group will connect mentorship programs with one another so they can host events, share their practices and increase recruitment, said David Edelstein, Evanston Mentors founder. 

Evanston Mentors currently consists of 14 different community organizations, including the Child Care Network of Evanston, the McGaw YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chicago, and Youth Organizations Umbrella. The collaboration grew out of All Our Sons, an organization that Edelstein started in 2004 with funding from the Evanston Community Foundation. His aim at the time, he said, was to deal with issues facing Evanston’s young men.

About a year and a half ago, Edelstein reached out to agencies he had met through All Our Sons regarding enhancing Evanston’s mentorship offerings. After applying for an ECF grant, he worked with leaders of the various agencies to create Evanston Mentors.

“The name is an aspiration, and it’s a description,” Edelstein said. “Our aspiration is that Evanston does mentor its youth. It’s a verb. It’s what we do in Evanston. We know our youth need mentorship, and we do that.”

The launch event featured a series of speeches from program directors, as well as mentor-mentee pairs. Speakers shared their hopes for the future of the collective and stressed the need for more mentoring services in Evanston.

Eric Witherspoon, Evanston Township High School superintendent, said he has worked with all of the involved organizations in some capacity. He emphasized the positive impact that mentors can have on students of all ages.

“At the high school, we know that no matter how many resources we have, and no matter how much access we have daily to young people, we still can’t possibly do it alone,”  Witherspoon said. “It does take the community. It does take all of us wrapping our arms around the young people in this community, committed to making sure that each and every one of them is getting the support and nurturing that they so much need and so much deserve.”

Main goals of the collaboration include bringing the agencies together for recruitment and organizing a joint training, Edelstein said. Evanston Mentors’ first meeting will be Dec. 11 at the McGaw YMCA, 1000 Grove St.

Throughout the night, mentors and mentees shared stories of friendship and growth. Tyler Dixon, YOU participant and ETHS junior, said her mentor is “more like a role model” and someone she “can confide in about anything.” As a student with an interest in journalism, she said she has learned much from Gwen Macsai, an Evanston resident who works at Re:sound Radio, a Chicago public radio station. Macsai has been in contact with Medill professors about helping Dixon sit in on a journalism class. She said the relationship has been mutually beneficial.

“As an adult, you don’t have a lot of contact with kids, and you forget what it’s like to be an adolescent,” Macsai said. “They just anchor you in a different way than you get in other experiences. It’s really a great way of figuring out how to give back.”