Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Amid wellness crisis, Woman’s Club of Evanston grant program aims to help struggling teens, seniors

A+man+walks+past+the+Woman%E2%80%99s+Club+of+Evanston+in+downtown+Evanston.+The+club+announced+its+annual+community+grant+program+on+Sept.+22.
Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
A man walks past the Woman’s Club of Evanston in downtown Evanston. The club announced its annual community grant program on Sept. 22.

Charley Smith leads Haven Youth and Family Services, a youth care organization in Wilmette that strives to never turn anyone away. 

However, the mental health crisis that arose among teenagers during the COVID-19 pandemic severely tested that commitment, he said.

“We had a waiting list at one period in time,” said Smith, the executive director. “We had to hire additional therapists. We also don’t turn anybody away that can’t afford services.”

Smith said Haven relies on funding from resident donations and groups like the Woman’s Club of Evanston, whose annual grant program has previously awarded funds to Haven Youth and Family Services.

Now, as the club opens next year’s application process, Smith hopes to secure a grant again.

“The Woman’s Club does a wonderful job of supporting different organizations and nonprofits with a variety of different services to the community,” he said.

This year, the club’s community grant program will focus on physical and mental wellness for local teenagers and senior citizens. Organizations must submit applications by Nov. 1, and the club plans to announce award recipients in the spring. Recipients can also apply for additional opportunities to host fundraisers at the club. 

However, the number of awards varies by year, said Kathy Fisher, the club’s contribution chair. Each community grant typically ranges from $500 to $5,000 with an average amount of $1,250, according to the club. The Daily reported that the grant program awarded a total of $175,000 to 17 organizations in 2019.

Fisher said the grant program also aims to boost the profile of the club, which spearheads community initiatives like its Dreams Delivered Prom Boutique, an annual drive for prom dresses and accessories for local high schoolers. 

Akilah Wilson, who grew up in Evanston, recounted fond memories of the prom boutique which helped her feel “empowered and seen.”

“When it comes to programming like that, I definitely think fondly of the Woman’s Club of Evanston,” she said. “In their lane, I think that they definitely have impactful and powerful programs and grant opportunities.”

Wilson now serves as the communications manager for the Evanston Community Foundation, which also distributes grants and other funds, awarding $3.23 million total in 2022.

Residents’ need for mental healthcare and services has grown in the aftermath of the pandemic, but local donors have also helped organizations meet those needs, said Rebecca Cacayuran, the foundation’s vice president for community investment.

“In 2019 our grants budget was $840,000,” she said. “During the pandemic, because of the community response, we gave grants of $4.4 million.”

Smith said his youth care organization witnessed teenagers’ need for help continue to grow this year. Beyond its care services, the organization also runs the Warming House Youth Center, a drop-in activity center for teenagers in Wilmette that has also received a grant. 

As community needs remain high, Fisher said the Woman’s Club of Evanston’s focus on teenage wellness couldn’t be timelier.

“You hear a lot about mental suffering and physical wellness and suffering since the pandemic,” she said. “That’s where that kind of focus came from.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @realShunGraves

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