On a Wednesday evening in August, members of the Youth Opportunity (YO) network gathered to close out the Spring 2021 YO Ambassadors Program. During the closing event, participants and staff talked about the life experiences that brought them to their present personal and professional circumstances and shared the wisdom they’ve learned along the way. Though attendees assembled via Zoom, the appreciative energy was a palpable testament to the impact of the program.

Trint, a two-time YO Ambassador by way of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, said that thanks to the YO Ambassadors Program, he’s equipped with professional development and communications skills that he otherwise might have missed out on due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Once you start liking to do something,” Trint explained, “I think you should come back. I watch a lot of sports and usually when a team and a player do well together, they come back and sign on. That’s how I’m starting to feel about IYF and the YO program.” The skills he’s learned are already taking hold in his personal and professional life. Recently, he agreed to coach his son’s soccer team. Though he had little knowledge of soccer, he agreed to coach because of advice he’d received from panelists at a YO event to “get out there and do it.”

Ana, a first-generation college student, is now a counselor at the Next Step Public Charter School. She recalled her experiences figuring out her own next steps during her final years of high school, explaining that her aunt was her support system while she navigated the transition to college. In fact, Ana chose to pursue a career in counseling so she could be for students that person “that wasn’t there for [her], that person that [she] needed” during her late teenage years. Now, she shows up for her students with enthusiasm and provides the resources they need to have college access.

Vita, also a first-generation college student whose immediate family members didn’t have the resources to guide her through the college application process, looked to her broader circle of support for tips and tricks on applying for college. Now in her role at the Next Step Public Charter School, she encourages her students “to look outward to start networking and to start advocating.” Additionally, Vita follows 3 principles when working with young people: 1) Youth must play an equal part in the partnership 2) Having a rapport makes it easier to complete a task, and 3) Neither the adult or youth has to know it all––both can learn from each other.

Ivelina Benitez, Director of U.S. Workforce Development at IYF, provided words of wisdom for the Spring 2021 cohort as they seek higher education and job opportunities: be your best self, be aware of what information you consume, embrace quiet moments, and leverage your network.

The stories and advice shared during the closing event were reminders of the profound impact of thoughtful leadership and collaboration––YO Ambassadors, facilitators, staff, and partners have harnessed the power of teamwork to prepare young people for their next steps. And whether it’s coaching on the soccer field or pursuing a professional milestone, this cohort’s next steps will certainly take them far.

While the Spring cohort is coming to an end, IYF looks forward to welcoming a new group of young people in September. Stay tuned––we can’t wait to share the lessons learned from the next group of YO Ambassadors! 

Learn more about the Youth Opportunity pre-employment initiative and the partnership between IYF and McDonald's.