Mather’s eMerge introduces students to hospitality and healthcare careers, connects generations


Kimberly Espinosa/Daily Senior Staffer

The Mather in Evanston. Mather’s new workforce development program seeks to introduce young people to job opportunities in the hospitality and healthcare industries.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

Evanston resident Barbara Hiller moved into The Mather, an Evanston senior living residency, four years ago. A retired math teacher and former Evanston/Skokie School District 65 administrator, Hiller began tutoring middle school and high school students online when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I found (online tutoring) very helpful to me as well as to the student,” Hiller said. “I think that not feeling isolated and that you still contribute (to the community) is, for us the elderly, important.” 

When Mather, the nonprofit that manages her residency, reached out to Hiller about participating in a fellowship to partner with mentoring organization Boys Hope Girls Hope, Hiller said she signed up “without hesitation.”

Two days a week, BHGH students come to The Mather to spend time with the residents, Hiller said. Over an hour and a half long session, the students work on their homework with the residents’ help or simply strike up a conversation and enjoy snacks.

A recent grant of $58,100 from Evanston’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, matched by an equivalent investment from Mather, will continue and expand fellowship programs like the one Hiller is in. It will also create internships for high school students and award scholarships for students at Oakton College. Together, the three initiatives create Mather’s new eMerge workforce development programs.

Hiller said she appreciates the opportunity to connect with students and continue pursuing her passion in education, remembering one who practiced his science class presentation with the residents. 

However, Hiller stressed the fellowship extends beyond tutoring. The program creates a space for students to engage with Mather residents and each other in a supportive environment, she said.

“I’ve never seen kids sit down and work so fast in my life. It is just a delight,” she said. “So we really hope that they feel empowered.”

Yvonne Jung, Mather’s senior vice president of human resources, said the organization hopes to show jobs in the healthcare and hospitality industries to young people in Evanston through the program.

“You may have never thought about working with an older adult or being a nurse or a nursing assistant,” Jung said. “So (eMerge) is really a chance for The Mather to provide opportunities for students to come into an industry that they may never have thought about and try different roles.”

Jung said Mather is currently working with Evanston Township High School to place four students in dining services and culinary internships at Mather’s Evanston residency, with more positions planned for the future. 

Nathan Norman, Evanston’s workforce development manager, said he began meeting with Mather in 2022 to collaborate on eMerge. 

“We see efficacy and intergenerational connectivity,” Norman said. “You have elderly individuals who easily would trust and build relationships with young people, but also offer them things that would cultivate them in their lives far beyond just a normal employment experience.”

In turn, young people can provide company and assistance to The Mather’s residents, for example by helping them navigate technology, he added.

At the height of the pandemic, Norman said many employers couldn’t provide internships and jobs to youth and young adults. Now, he said the city made it a priority to create programs like eMerge that help introduce young people to various industries and employment opportunities.

Norman pointed to the ASPIRE-Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program as another example. ASPIRE partners with local healthcare organizations and schools to provide job shadowing, scholarships and internships in the healthcare industry. In February 2022, Evanston approved a grant of $200,000 in ARPA funds to the program.

“My hope is that (eMerge) would be continuous in that individuals who go through the program would eventually end up as employees of Mather, and we would be able to continue this program as a pipeline (and) as a model for future collaborative initiatives,” Norman said.

Jung said she hopes eMerge will create a “feeder of talent” into permanent positions at The Mather.

Over time, she said she wants the number of internships, fellowship positions and scholarships to grow.

“The real goal for us is to get students exposure to not only our industry but also positions within The Mather that are really sparking interest,” Jung said.

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