Evanston nonprofit expands despite state budget uncertainty


Alice Yin/Daily Senior Staffer

Youth & Opportunity United, the Evanston-based youth development organization formerly known as Youth Organizations Umbrella, is headquartered at 1027 Sherman Ave. The group is expanding its reach and programming despite widespread budget concerns in the education community.

Lori Janjigian, Reporter

Despite the looming possibility of budget cuts at the state level, one Evanston nonprofit has announced plans to expand — increasing its budget, revamping its programming and changing its name.

Youth & Opportunity United, formerly Youth Organizations Umbrella, will announce specifics of the expansion Saturday.

Y.O.U. is a nonprofit organization that offers after-school care, mentoring, parental engagement and clinical counseling to help students acquire skills for success in the future.

“We provide high-quality out-of-school time to help students grow academically, socially and emotionally,” executive director Seth Green said.

In the past four years, Y.O.U. has grown from assisting 450 students annually to 1,500 this year.

“This rebrand comes at a moment when we are celebrating the success of our programs and kids,” Green said.

While nonprofits around the state prepare to slash budgets and cut staff, Y.O.U. is expanding. Only 3 percent of its budget comes from the state, and private donors maintain a high level of financial support.

“Thanks to their incredible generosity, we are able to sustain every single service that we provide to kids and families,” Green told The Daily in July. “Our doors this summer are actually more open than they have ever been.”

Although the state has been without a budget since July 1, a variety of legal and legislative avenues have freed about 90 percent of state government appropriations. However, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger said there will likely be a backlog of bills by the end of December exceeding $8.5 billion — a funding gap that will especially impact the ability of human service agencies to care for their clients.

While Evanston human services organizations that are largely funded by the state face potential programming cuts, Y.O.U.’s current structure relies heavily on support from community partners, enabling it to largely avoid funding uncertainty.

One such funding partner allowing Y.O.U. to remain focused on its mission is the Evanston Athletic Club. Amy Whalen, the club’s manager, said it hosts Y.O.U. students every Friday after school. The students have access to the club’s swimming pool, exercise equipment, climbing equipment and basketball courts.

“It gives them a sense of being part of the community,” Whalen said. “They learn to be respectful of the organization and other members of the club.”

Although the program has already shown significant growth in the past four years, Y.O.U. staff hopes it will continue to reach more kids.

Tyler Dixon, a Y.O.U. alumnus, now attends Hampton University in Virginia and said what the organization taught her went beyond what she learned in the classroom.

“Y.O.U. taught me life skills,” Dixon said in a statement to The Daily. “They’re not there just to help with your homework. Y.O.U. is like a big family.”

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Twitter: @lori_janjigian