‘My City, Your City, Our City’ initiative engages Evanston youth with summer activities


Daily file illustration by Eliana Storkamp

The “My City, Your City, Our City” initiative provides learning and work opportunities, drop-in hours at community centers and free programming ranging from block parties to restorative circles.

Astry Rodriguez, Reporter

 Evanston’s “My City, Your City, Our City” youth program has started its second run this summer, aiming to encourage community youth to avoid violence and engage in recreational activities.

“My City, Your City,” part of the city’s “Safe Summer” initiative, provides learning opportunities, drop-in hours at community centers and free programming ranging from block parties to restorative circles. Participants at “My City, Your City” events can expect games, movies, raffles, tournaments and food. 

“We want to make sure they are having fun (and) have something to eat,” said Audrey Thompson, Evanston’s parks and recreation director. “They can play video games, hang out with each other, but we also want to give them some type of engagement activity while they’re in the center so it is more productive.”

To provide residents with information on community services available to youth and families, Evanston formed The Collective, a group of nine organizations including Youth & Opportunity United, Erie Family Health Centers, Youth Job Center and Curt’s Cafe, among others.

Thompson said selecting organizations that could provide a range of services was a big priority when forming The Collective.

“If we’re all doing the same thing, it becomes really counterproductive,” Thompson said. “So, it is always great to have a variety so we can really work more comprehensively with our young people.”

Youth Job Center provides financial education and career services, according to Program Manager Trevor Trieschmann. The program works alongside other organizations in The Collective to support the city’s young people.

The center’s staff encourages youth to schedule one-on-one sessions to discuss personal goals, learn how to build credit, start saving and initiate a relationship with a bank or credit union.

“We want to be there for our community members, for our partners,” Trieschmann said. “(Violence) can stem from activity in the neighborhood because there are no other opportunities: no money, no jobs and no positive influences around.” 

Kristen Kennard, director of social work services at the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, said a primary goal behind “My City, Your City” was to create unity in safe spaces for and with young people and their families, given numerous gun violence incidents last year and the isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She added that The Collective breaks down barriers that prevent Black, Indigenous and other people of color from accessing resources. 

“We (and our organizations) felt … that people were hurting, and we really wanted to create opportunities for young people and their families to connect and realize there are agencies in the community that can help,” Kennard said.

While people should not expect the initiative to put an end to violence, the program allows community leaders to connect with Evanston youth and give them a space to resolve conflicts, Thompson said.

Thompson added that activities that involve being active and outdoors also improve mental health. 

“We still have young people who fight,” Thompson said. “(But) we are able to go to them and speak more of restorative justice rather than just saying, ‘you can’t come back to the center.’ We give them an opportunity to repair the harm.”

Kennard said uniting the organizations in The Collective was the best way to provide comprehensive services, as some of them were already working together informally before the program. 

This year, the program has become more robust based on the feedback provided by community youth in 2021, such as by increasing staff and accessibility for the drop-in centers and minimizing waitlist periods, according to Kennard.

Trieschmann said “My City, Your City” has the potential to help Evanston young adults and teenagers feel welcome and supported.

“I hope it builds community, with all the different facets (of resources) available to youth,” Trieschmann said. “Building relationships helps to curb violence.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @Astry_tpwk

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