Chicago’s Youth are a Bellwether

Our youth in Chicago are a bellwether for our city as a whole. Their high unemployment rates reflect our need for workforce development; their truancy is an extension of our under, and inequitable, funding of schools; and their violence is a reflection of the socio-economic conditions in our communities. We want to change their lives and we’ve found that in many instances it means we need to change our own.

Get IN Chicago has charted an ambitious course to support innovative and effective approaches to address the decades-old problem of violence affecting our most vulnerable youth. And it has been a groundbreaking year. Among other things, Get IN Chicago issued Five Key Learnings, which provide a framework for substantial change in our work and led to the creation of Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care (SYNC). To advance SYNC, we established three cohorts of solid community-based organizations to implement evidence-based programs, develop a curriculum and provide capacity-building training so that organizations can better meet the needs of our youth. We also funded Metropolitan Family Services to execute an intake and case management system, and partnered with the Cook County Public Defender, Juvenile Probation Department and Chicago Police Department to launch a referral pipeline for acutely high-risk youth. We also increased the awareness of, and public and private resources deployed for, young people at high risk for violence. Our violence prevention strategies cross multiple domains, are mutually reinforcing and are funded for several years to provide sustainable impact.

Chicago Urban League received funding from Get IN Chicago to support its mentoring program in 2016.

In less than four years, our private funder collaborative is approaching a sea change as our efforts continue to gain traction and take root. Our police/youth baseball leagues are a compelling example of the power of comprehensive community interventions. These initiatives hold promise for prevention because they involve collaboration and address multiple risk factors in families and communities. Initially created in partnership with the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Police Department’s 7th District and Teamwork Englewood, Get IN Chicago’s baseball leagues are approaching their third summer and have expanded to the 11th District in North Lawndale and the 15th district in Austin with the help of BBF Family Services and Westside Health Authority, respectively. The data is in, and this kind of innovative place-based work not only shows promise for violence reduction but also empowers citizens, builds community efficacy and increases trust.

Our data is validated every week by some new lived reality. One Hope United therapists share stories of young men making strides after their sessions, managing anger in healthier ways and emerging as leaders. Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (YAP) case notes are filled with young people setting and achieving goals they themselves did not believe were possible. After completing the Youth Guidance parent leadership program one parent shared, “Now, I’m better equipped to handle my 13 year old. I set more boundaries and schedules, and I speak to him with more respect… I’m modeling these behaviors for him, and I see him modeling them for my younger kids. And I see how these positive behaviors can start to go on and on.” Everyone can’t be born on third base, but when we take the time to mentor, counsel and support a young person the outcomes far exceed our investments.

Police/Youth Baseball League programs funded by Get IN Chicago bring together youth, officers, and local residents.

Our work is not just about making program grants. Every day, we think creatively about how to help community organization leaders who have built interventions but in many cases lack access to the technology and resources to further their impact. In our current constrained budgetary environment, what was sufficient 10 or 20 years ago may not reflect the breadth and depth required to run a high-caliber, data-driven program that effectively meets the needs of acutely high-risk youth. With the support of Get IN Chicago-funded technical assistance, our grantees are more familiar with the requirements for using data and better positioned to demonstrate outcomes during evaluations of their programs.

We are working to model a shift from simply counting youth served to serving those with the highest needs in a way that leads to measurable outcomes — a process change that is in service to a larger culture change. Providing a specific program to 100 youth means little if they don’t get what they need to lead better lives. Shifting from outputs to outcomes focuses us on the change we wish to see. Not a box checked, but a life improved. Since our inception, across our grantee portfolio we’ve observed a 30% increase in organizations’ abilities to meet outcome goals.

For Get IN Chicago, as well as our grantees, continuous quality improvement has been a real test of our agility and persistence. Our work would falter if not for the energy, insights and investments of our established learning communities. Getting in sync has been no small feat, but we’ve made it easier to reach common ground with our long-term commitment to our SYNC partners and their work.

Capacity building sessions from Get IN Chicago gave front line nonprofit workers training in evidence-based mentoring and therapy models.

We still have significant work to do. We will continue to build stronger sustainable recruitment systems, deepen our capacity-building work and normalize a system of service delivery driven by outcomes versus outputs. We also will continue to cultivate an intake infrastructure that identifies youth needs, matches young people with appropriate programs and provides the case management services crucial to ensuring they have safer lives and brighter futures.

I am blessed to work with Chicago youth and their families, a phenomenal board, a tight-knit staff and a strong group of community-based organizations on the front lines. As we all know, a small private fund alone can’t independently foster sustained systems change in a statistically significant and sustainable way. We thank our supporters for all they do to make this work possible. We invite you to take a deeper dive into community conditions and learn more about our mission on our website, The success of our city depends on all of us getting involved, invested and inspired.


This letter originally appeared in Get IN Chicago’s 2016 Annual Report.

Toni Irving, Ph.D., is a public policy expert and the Executive Director of Get IN Chicago.