A Peek Into Neighborhood Home For Troubled Youth

By Anna Roberts | Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Crime, violence and teens are a common trifecta in Chicago news with a rare focus on the “What’s next?” But the mission of a center in Ravenswood Manor is to focus on the “next.” The repair and the future for these Chicago youths.

Lawrence Hall Youth Services building located at 4833 N Francisco Ave (photo courtesy of Lawrence Hall)

Lawrence Hall Youth Services, with its main facility just off Lawrence Ave. near the Chicago River, 4833 N. Francisco Ave., works with over 1,000 children, adolescents and families in Chicago. The provide services and support for children and teens who have been traumatized by violence. “They aren’t victims. They have voices,” says Jill Watson, Director of Communications and Marketing. “They just need the support to learn.”

That support comes in a variety of services.

Lawrence Hall works with After School Matters to provide after school programs for Chicago Public School students. Foster Care, child and family treatment programs, and independent living programs for older teens are also among the programs they provide to the community.

The building on Fransisco also houses a therapeutic day school and residential treatment facility. According to their site, Lawrence Hall cares for 10% of the state’s child welfare recipients in Cook County residential programs. By the time they arrive at Lawrence Hall, residents have lived in an average of 12 different places.

In the day school, Watson says students are exposed to an “intense curriculum” that focuses on academics, arts education, social skills to meet their individual needs. “We work with [Chicago Public Schools] to identify kids who would be benefit from our therapeutic day school,” says Watson. “There is a 5:1 ratio of students to teachers and we have a 95% graduation rate. The students get their diploma, not a GED,” the high school equivalency degree. The program was recently named an Academic School of Excellence by the Association of Special Education Teachers.

Lawrence Hall also has a vocational program for students. A full service kitchen is located in the facility on Fransisco. TryMe’s is an in-house deli that is fully operated by the youths. The program, an accredited culinary class, teaches students how to cook and serve food as well as how to take inventory, manage sanitation and other aspects of the hospitality industry. The deli serves other students and staff at Lawrence Hall.

“It’s a really hands on class. The kids love it,” says Vocational Services Supervisor Sean McGinnis.

McGinnis says the vocational program also focuses on janitorial and administrative skills as well as other aspects of job readiness. “We want to engage the kids and get them invested in what they’re doing,” he says. From this program, students who show growth in their responsibility are selected to do work within the community, like lawn care for residents. “They feel really proud because they’ve been selected because they’ve been doing well,” says McGinnis.

Sean McGinnis in front of the TryMe's menu at Lawrence Hall (photo courtesy of Lawrence Hall)

“A lot of our youth come from a place where they haven’t been recognized for their achievements,” says Watson. “The first time they get accolades can be a significant life moment.”

McGinnis is hoping area business might want to help make some of those significant life moments happen.

“We have a Career Fest in which we invite people from a variety of jobs in the community to come in and talk to our students and answer questions about their work,” he says. McGinnis also says if any business would like to team up with Lawerence Hall to offer internships–either paid or unpaid–they should contact him at (773) 769-3500. “Our students just want to learn,” he says. “I also hope that if a business in the community is looking to hire, they will look to us and work with us to help our students get a job.”

Business and residents in the neighborhood can also help on a smaller scale.

“We’re always thankful for in kind donations,” says Watson. She also notes they are part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s One Good Deed Chicago volunteer program. “You may not work directly with the youth but there are so many other things to help with,” she says.

Family Tree mural, painted by LHYS youth. (photo courtesy of Lawrence Hall)

The center also recently kicked off its holiday gift drive, which runs form now until December 16. New, unwrapped items (“With the receipt if possible, in case something doesn’t fit,” says Watson.) like books, clothing, DVDs, sports equipment and electronics can be dropped off at the main building on Francisco Ave. or the downtown office (65 E. Wacker Dr., Suite 1300). These gifts go to both the kids in foster care and those in the residential programs at Lawrence Hall, Watson says. (Click for a PDF list of items and more info on the drop off locations.).

So while its always nice to drop spare change in a red bucket or donated cash to a large cooperate giving campaign, gifts like what Lawrence Hall is asking for go directly to a young person in the community. Specific items or needs for a specific child can be obtained by emailing Nate Rosato at nrosato@lawrencehall.org.

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