They are future lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and social workers. They are studying computer science, business law, psychology, and photography. They are CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center’s college graduating class of 2016 and they are ready to make their mark on the world. These 18 scholars form CYC’s biggest college graduating class. Two are Epstein Scholars and several are ITW Watson scholars. Their interests are varied, and their future ambitions span professional industries, but their stories share a common thread: CYC helped launch them into the world.
“In the College and Career Readiness Resource Room at CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center, there is a map of push pins along with pictures,” said Center Director Roberta Douglas.”Every pin represents a CYC member of Sidney Epstein Youth Center who is away at college. Every pin represents a story. A story of overcoming, ignoring the statistics, beating the everyday odds; for one teen it might be the death of a parent, for another it might be a parent or sibling incarcerated, homelessness, drug addiction, or poverty. Every pin represents the commonality of our youth; they all came through CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center. They all made the conscious decision, with the support of CYC staff, family, school personnel, and every other positive person in their lives, to look beyond their past and environment and embrace the future. At CYC they discovered and realized their full potential.”
CYC’s College and Career Readiness Program, a component of CYC’s Teen Leadership Development Program, provides teens with guidance and support as they prepare for post-secondary education and a career. CYC’s staff helps teens prepare for college entrance exams, craft competitive entry applications, and apply for financial aid. They also provide career modeling and exploration, and help teens connect their passions and talents to possible career tracks.
“CYC prepared me for college intellectually and financially,” explained Cheyenne Dyer, Dominican University ’16. “Through CYC workshops, I learned how to write my college essay, how to apply for financial aid, and how to understand which financial aid packages I received best fit my financial need.”
The workshops, though, were not what made the biggest impression on Cheyenne. It was the dedication of the College and Career Program Coordinator, Kimberly George, who went the extra mile, literally—driving Cheyenne to Dominican University for campus tours and their accepted students’ day. “Ms. Kim drove to my house and picked me up on numerous Saturday mornings to take me to college tours,” he said. “That is pivotal to me being where I am today.”
Cheyenne is applying to graduate schools to launch a career in social work, a path he discovered he wanted to pursue while he was at CYC. (Read our full interview with Cheyenne here)
Shaquia Johnson, Mississippi Valley State University ’16, hopes to work for a Fortune 500 company after graduating with her degree in computer science. She is thriving in college and a member of many clubs. “The positive vibes [at CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center] shaped me into the independent person I became at Mississippi Valley State University,” she said. “My college experience showed me that people can look the exact same on paper but it takes networking, social skills, and experience to have the upper hand. Being the president of both Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and the Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences Department has given me the networking opportunities that I plan to use for a lifetime.”
The alumni roster is filled with stories like these. Sylvia Roudez wants to open her own hair salon—with the hope of ultimately franchising. Cynthia Jimenez will pursue a career in healthcare. Ariana Bell, who began taking photography classes at the Art Institute in high school through a CYC scholarship program, is continuing to hone her talent for photography.
Another theme that unites these scholars is a desire to give back. “I want to go back to my community to assist at-risk youth and encourage them to make good choices,” explained Cheyenne. “I want them to seek the opportunities that I did to expand their horizons beyond a five to ten block radius.”
Cynthia added, “The biggest thing I want to achieve post college graduation is recognition for my degree in order to encourage the Latino community, especially women in Humboldt Park, that anything is possible. That includes being a college graduate.”
With alumni like Cheyenne, Cynthia, Shaquia, Sylvia, and Ariana, we have a feeling that the pushpins on the map at CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center will be growing exponentially.