In 2009, a handful of volunteers were moved to start the Chicago chapter of StandUp For Kids by making sandwiches in a Lakeview church basement. Our volunteers walked the streets of West Lakeview in search of hungry homeless kids, distributing the sandwiches as contact was made. Because our volunteers all wore purple, word of the "purple people" spread quickly amongst Chicago's homeless youth. The distribution of sandwiches continued as StandUp For Kids - Chicago's primary activity for multiple years. Over this time, the volunteers raised funds, relying mostly on the generosity of family and friends for donations. The end result was the opening of the drop-in center in 2012. Since opening of the drop-in center we have only continued to grow with the inception of student night and our bus pass program.
StandUp For Kids has a 100% volunteer run drop-in center located in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. The center is open on Monday and Thursday evenings from 6:30-9:00 p.m., a time period in which there are little to no other services available to Chicago’s homeless youth.
Monday nights the center services youth between the ages of 13-24. On Monday evenings, the center provides Chicago’s homeless youth services including but not limited to, a safe space to relax and socialize, as well as a hot meal and access to our closet to obtain much needed clothing and personal items. Further, the youth have access to our volunteers who are there to help to the best of their ability with homework, and/or interview training, mentoring, counseling and emotional support.
Thursday nights at the center is student night. The center once again services youth between the ages of 13-24. On Thursday evenings the center provides Chicago's homeless youth the same services provided on Monday evenings with the same access to our volunteers. The key difference between Monday and Thursday is that on Thursdays, the youth must show a valid student ID and/or current school schedule upon entering. As the night is geared towards students, the environment in the center is quiet and conducive to studying. Although the Thursday night volunteers provide the youth with any and all support needed, they try to spend as much time as possible taking on a tutoring role and working with the youth on that capacity.
Along with providing a safe drop-in center for Chicago’s homeless youth, StandUp For Kids has always strived to provide, and still does provide street outreach for those who do not come into the center. On Mondays and Thursday evenings volunteers prepare 25 bagged lunches. At approximately 7:00, a group of volunteers leave the center and go to the Lakeview spots we know homeless youth will most likely be. We wear our purple StandUp For Kids sweatshirts or T-shirts and are known to the homeless youth as the “purple people.” We hand out bagged lunches and usually some clean socks, underwear, hats, gloves and other winter gear depending on the weather. As always, our volunteers are available to provide emotional support to the youth, should they want and/or need that in addition to the provisions.
Our newest and to date most popular and successful program is our scholarship Bus Pass Program. The program was created because our kids expressed one of the main things standing in the way of their education was lack of transportation. As such, we will provide a $105 monthly bus pass to any youth proving age eligibility, current, valid student status, and demonstrating a strong desire to advance themselves through education. So long as that student status remains active and valid, and they attend two student nights per month to avail themselves of our quiet study conducive atmosphere and our volunteers there for tutoring and/or mentoring, we will continue to provide the bus pass to that student monthly. Further, we will supply a monthly bus pass once per year to any of Chicago’s homeless youth providing proof of new employment. Since our initiation of the program in September, we have seen a marked rise in the percentage of students in the population we serve. This program combined with student night is going to be the key to many of our youth breaking the cycle of homelessness.
StandUp For Kids - Chicago is truly a grassroots chapter with extreme amounts of potential. We have grown at a very rapid rate since the forming of our chapter in 2009, and we have no doubts that this growth will only continue. We have strong ties to the local Chicago community and will carry on doing our very best to help each Chicago youth that we can break the cycle of homelessness.