Partner Spotlight: Chicago Youth Centers

October 18, 2017
Youth at CYC explore science, engineering, arts, technology and math in their S.T.E.A.M. after school program.

Bright Promises Foundation began a multi-year partnership with Chicago Youth Centers in 2016 as a part of our newest initiative focused on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). 

The goal of this new initiative is to ensure that Chicago’s most vulnerable children and youth, especially those who are growing up in violent neighborhoods where they are faced with daily traumas, have access to learning environments that build, promote and reinforce social and emotional skills vital to life success in the 21st century.

The mission of Chicago Youth Centers (CYC) is to educate and support children and families so they can succeed. CYC provides the tools, experiences, and resources needed for youth ages 3-18 to persist academically and develop socially and emotionally. CYC achieves this by engaging children early and providing services when they are most vulnerable: after school and during the summer.

In recent years, Chicago Youth Centers has increased their focus on SEL and 21st century skill development, placing a strong focus on the proven benefit of 2-generation and prevention based programming. The families served by the Rebecca K. Crown Center are exposed to one of the highest rates of violence in the city of Chicago, and experience a much higher degree of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Additionally, 100% of families at this Center live below the federal poverty line. These factors create significant stress on families and can undermine children’s aspirations and ability to succeed. In fact, 50% of all school absences are caused by chronic stress. Chronic stress also impairs attention and concentration, and reduces cognition, creativity, and memory. Also, 45% of people who live in poverty for more than half of their childhood will remain in poverty by age 35, which means the children we serve need an intentional, transformative program to help them break this cycle.

"This program is not just a program, it’s an experience. It’s about learning how to build yourself up. There are so many self-esteem programs out there, but it’s really about how can I help myself, how can I help my family, how can I get myself out of poverty, how can I change the outcomes that when I gave birth to this child this is what he or she was meant to do and we want them to know there are possibilities." - Christy Beighe-Byrne, Program Director for Parenting with a Purpose

And so with Bright Promises' help, the Parenting with a Purpose program, which had already proven to be successful with teens and parents of teens, was expanded to support younger age groups and their families. "Our Parenting with a Purpose program is really thinking about how do we encourage parents to be more active," Program Director Christy Beighe-Byrne explains, "Not only at CYC through the Bright Promises Parenting with a Purpose program, but also in their communities, in their schools, in their churches, in their networks building a positive community and network for their children," .

We are now entering the second year of this partnership and we are encouraged by the success of the first year. The number of parents participating in the Parenting with a Purpose program has been steadily increasing each quarter, with more than 40 families participating in the most recent series of programs and workshops. Parents who participate in earlier sessions continue to stay engaged with the program too, returning to the center as volunteers and actively participating in parent/family activities.

With Bright Promises' support, our partners at the Chicago Youth Centers Rebecca K. Crown Center report that parent engagement in general has increased dramatically – including 100% of parent attendance at the Spring Showcase talent show where the children demonstrated the new skills they were learning including violin and dance. 

This Jaunary, CYC began offering violin lessons in partnership with the Merit School of Music. 

The positive impact of the Parenting with a Purpose program has radiated beyond the center itself too, creating positive change in the community. Several parents who participated in this program have joined local advisory boards and more parents than ever are attending regularly scheduled programs at the Center and in the communty, such as robotics competitions, family Zumba and fieldtrips to cultural and educational institutions like the Museum of Science and Industry.


Chicago Youth Centers report that participant parents understanding of the importance of positive Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has improved thanks to this program. The Chicago Youth Centers curriculum enforces the “Four C’s” – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. Both the children and families participating in this program have grown to understand how important it is to communicate effectively, work well with others, use critical thinking skills, and creatively solve problems. This program has also helped children with the development of self-control, respect, responsibility, self-esteem, and kindness. Thanks to the  Parenting with a Purpose program, families understand how important these SEL skills are for their children’s success at home, at school, and ultimately in the workforce. 

Ms. Bunch donated supplies to the Center for children who needed them to do their homework. CYC parents are proud to model kindness and generosity to their children and teach them the importance of caring for the community.

This program has also been important in advancing Chicago Youth Centers goal of providing support and resources for the whole family, not just the child enrolled at their center, "We help parents understand that we are not only serving the child, but the whole family. Families and/or children that come to CYC with a large set of needs are assigned a member of the Clinical Support Team, who works with the program leadership to provide wrap-around services, such as mentoring, counseling, case management and educational/vocational support," describes Christy Beighe-Byrne Program Director for Parenting with a Purpose.

"I am thankful that this organization believes in transparency and creating open communication between its parents and students," one parent explained. "One day when picking up my daughter from programming, the instructor shared that my daughter had a difficult time concentrating in class, which was not like her. This feedback had me look at what I could do to improve her concentration. I immediately changed her bedtime to an earlier time. Not only did her engagement change with CYC, but also in school." 

This is one of many examples where the staff and leadership of Chicago Youth Centers and Bright Promises Foundation have seen first-hand that engaging parents as partners makes it more likely for children to develop strong SEL skills, and ultimately achieve greater success in everything they do.

In the second year of this partnership, CYC will continue to expand this program to new sites, incluidng the Sidney Epstein Youth Center in the North Lawndale neighborhood, while continuing to increase programming and experiential learning opportunities for the current child and family participants.

Bright Promises Foundation is very proud to be partnering with Chicago Youth Centers to do this important and impactful work.