Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews by Mary Jones with the 2011 winners of the Rudy Bruner Award. Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago, Illinois was one of four Silver Medalists. For more information on the Rudy Bruner Award please visit http://www.brunerfoundation.org/rba/.
In the four years that the Gary Comer Youth Center has been open how have youth of the area been impacted?
Located in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago’s south side, the Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) creates a safe and constructive environment for its 800+ active youth and teen members and 200+ adult members. Gary Comer College Prep serves over 600 students with approximately 70% residing locally. In its four years of programming, GCYC has had many successful impacts. Youth and parents have a more positive attitude toward school, more students are graduating from 8th and 12th grade on time, the number of first generation college students has increased, members are developing career interests and gaining employment and/or going to secondary school to pursue those interests, and hundreds of youth internships and jobs have been created from the project. GCCP students, although coming to the school with test scores that place them at a 5th/6th grade level on average, are now testing well above their peers at other Chicago schools, averaging scores that have them on pace to be the South Side’s highest performing open-enrollment high school on the ACT.
What role do community members play in the day-to-day operation of the center?
Community adults are involved in the center as either employees or volunteers. Our advisory board includes many community residents who help to guide Center activities. Additionally, several community groups utilize the Center regularly for their own meetings and events. Many community adults also attend the center’s adult programming and events.
What do you feel are the benefits of offering a combination of educational, nutritional and fitness support for young people?
Area residents suffer disproportionately from health disorders. Per 10,000 population residents, Greater Grand Crossing had an average diabetes rate of 38.8 compared to Chicago’s average of 28.8; heart disease average rates were 192 compared to 172.5, respectively (Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago Community Health Profiles, 2003). Community youth need both academic support, as well as opportunities to be physically active and develop a healthful lifestyle. The Gary Comer Youth Center’s programs give young people a place to unwind after school and participate in a combination of enrichment, fitness, and academic activities.
What does the future hold for the GCYC?
GCYC has worked collaboratively with Gary Comer College Prep to expand the school’s grade levels to include 6th through 8th grade. In fall 2011, 60 6th grade students will attend school within the Gary Comer Youth Center and by 2013; the school will be a fully enrolled 6th – 12th grade school. We are also exploring early childhood (birth to age 5) offerings to be included in the range of services in future years. The Gary Comer Youth Center will continue to work with the community and refine programming to provide support for all of our students to graduate from high school, prepared to pursue college and careers.