Connecting every young person in Chicago to a meaningful opportunity this summer. That’s the immediate goal of the city’s “My Chi. My Future.” initiative, which launches Saturday.
With the school year almost at an end, and the city of Chicago on pace to cautiously begin reopening in June, young people are looking for ways to stay engaged during the summer months. That’s why first lady Amy Eshleman and Deputy Mayor for Education and Human Services Dr. Sybil Madison are launching the My Chi. My Future. initiative — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s youth-focused campaign that hopes to connect young people with opportunities geared toward their interests, and mentorship that will help them on the path to success.
“Some communities don’t have as many of these opportunities as others, or don’t have as rich a number of opportunities as other communities. There are communities in which young people and their families are afraid — there are physical and emotional barriers in just moving around,” Madison said. And then there’s just barriers in terms of information. A big part of this effort is putting all these opportunities in one place, so it’s easier for caring adults to have the information that youth needs to connect to these opportunities."
Work on the site began last year. Lightfoot and Eshleman are announcing the launch of the “My Chi. My Future.” social media campaign during a virtual youth summit Saturday. The website went live the same day.
The My Chi. My Future. website offers hundreds of local organizations the ability to share their digital programs and content with young people, and allows young people to explore those activities and events in one place. Webinars and live experiences are posted in categories such as computers, food and performance, and are classified by age, cost and location. Other resources on the site include DIY projects, gaming, mental wellness, employment and basic needs (food and housing).
According to Madison, the space is less about learning and more about creating avenues for young people to check out things that they’re really interested in. Open mic Mondays, workout Wednesdays, having talent shows and brainstorming ideas on what could be livestreamed on a daily basis are being discussed or implemented, Madison said.
“We want to create that space for them and make it easier for them to connect and feel connected,” she said. Eshleman said it’s something that’s going to have a life beyond the current administration, if done the right way.
“I think one of the really unique things about this project is it’s bringing together the best of Chicago — city government, academia, the philanthropic community and corporate Chicago all coming together to invest in our young people,” Eshleman said. “It’s been incredibly important to the mayor. She talks about equity inclusion being her North Star, and for me, that begins with our young people. We have to give them a reason to feel good and loved and hopeful in the city, and that’s what I think this initiative is grounded in.”
Having worked with over 200 community organizations, the youth-serving city departments and the mayor’s Youth Commission, Eshleman and Madison said the mayor’s first citywide initiative is about reaching out to young people who on their own don’t connect to the city’s resources, youths who may be a little cautious about trying something new and those whose families are working double shifts and don’t have time to look up programs except on the last day of school.
“We believe that this work that usually takes place in an out-of-school space is critical to youth development,” Madison said. “Part of their development should be connected to experiences, particularly outside of school, that help them explore their interests, discover their talents, connect to peers (find their people) among their peers, and also connect to caring adults who can be a part of their social network and help them not only dream about what the future could look like, but actually build a pathway to that future.”
Madison said this is just the beginning. Partnering with communities to make sure every young person is connected to a meaningful opportunity this summer is the goal.
“We feel like that’s where the power is. It’s in caring adults, in schools, in communities, in households saying: ‘We can do this. We can get every young person connected.’ That’s the stake in the ground that the mayor wants us to put down, and we are putting that stake in the ground still, even in this environment,”Madison said.
“Over time we see this evolving in a way that the city can ensure that this opportunity ecosystem is rich and robust in every community in the city and ensure that we are holding ourselves accountable to getting as many young people connected and that we’re paying attention to where we’re falling short, so that we can do the work to get more youth connected.”