Innovative after-school program to launch at Joliet center
By Denise Baran-Unland For The Herald-News September 28, 2012 8:50PM
Amy Sanchez, President of the Collins Street Neighborhood Council, in Joliet. Ill. File photo | Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:13AM
JOLIET — Many after-school programs offer homework help and recreation to grade and middle school children while their parents are working.
But the pilot program that will begin Monday at the Spanish Community Center is slanted toward 45 junior and senior high school students, with a twist, said its coordinator, Amy Sanchez, president of the Collins Street Neighborhood Council.
From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., in addition to tutoring and recreation, this program will offer exercises in sound art technology (where kids can record their poems and songs), drama, creative writing, dance, visual arts and photography.
“Kids at this age have a lot of emotion, even when they’re not experiencing challenges,” Sanchez said. “They may be frustrated because Mom just lost her job or excited because they have an opportunity to go to college. We want to give them a platform to showcase their emotions and talent.”
The inspiration for the program came during a trip to the Blue Island Public Library. Sanchez noted its technology corner and the excited participation it sparked in the youth. Sanchez wanted that same opportunity in her community.
So she talked to the council’s board and then approached the Spanish Community Center, which has a four-decade history of providing diverse services to residents, about using some of its space. The timing was perfect.
“They had just cleaned out a couple of rooms at the same time we had the idea,” Sanchez said.
Students will sign a contract promising to uphold the drug-free and profanity-free environment. The program is free to students — although daily $1 free-will donations will be encouraged — but not free to operate.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow recently presented Sanchez with a check for $2,400 to fund the first four months of the pilot program. Glasgow used money forfeited to the state by convicted criminals engaged in drug dealing, not taxpayer funds.
In the spring, Glasgow had met with Sanchez and other board members to discuss Sanchez’s program as a way to help youths at risk for participating in street gangs and drug dealing. Sanchez shared the story of street gang harassment one young man is experiencing — and resisting — while his grandmother is away from home at work.
“We know firsthand because of the work we perform in cooperation with our local police that many youths experience these kinds of pressures along the Collins Street corridor and in many other neighborhoods,” Glasgow said. “It is critical that we work together with grass-roots organizations like the Collins Street Neighborhood Council and the Spanish Community Center to protect the children in our neighborhoods and provide them with positive recreational and educational alternatives.”
Volunteers proficient in their respective fields will oversee the activities, with one volunteer per every eight students. Sanchez hopes some of those volunteers will come from local colleges and universities.
Eventually, Sanchez hopes to add other layers. These include mentorships from civic and business leaders and community service opportunities, such as stocking food pantries or participating in cleanup neighborhoods. These, Sanchez feels, will develop a well-rounded young adults.
“We want to form not only their creativity but also their civic responsibility to their schools and the community at large,” Sanchez said. “We want to show the students they have options.”
Sanchez will accept registration until the program is full; additional students will be added to a waiting list. For more information, contact Sanchez at 815-483-4958 or visit www.unitycdc.org.