Objective: To promote civic responsibility among young people.
In a Nutshell: CEP staff members work with teachers and administrators to identify secondary school students who show exceptional promise in areas such as leadership, civic responsibility and community problem-solving. CEP offers week-long field studies during winter and spring breaks, as well as a three-week summer course. Participants have served at shelters and soup kitchens in Nashville, Tenn., worked on the Cheyenne River Youth Project on a Sioux reservation in Eagle Butte, S.D., and helped to promote violence prevention in Detroit. CEP also offers training programs for teachers and administrators to promote service learning.
Where It Happens: CEP is based at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development in Evanston, Ill. Youth are recruited from the Chicago area and northern Illinois for the eight-day winter and spring break programs, and nationwide for the three-week summer programs. CEP youth travel to communities across the country such as Washington, D.C, East St. Louis, Ill., rural Appalachia and American Indian reservations.
When It Began: A small group of volunteers established the organization in the winter of 1997 and led a pilot program for eight high schoolers to travel to Atlanta to study HIV/AIDS. CEP was adopted by Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development in 1998, and funded its first full-time staff in 1999.
Who Started It: Rob Donahue founded Northwestern University’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) while he was a student there, placing college students in communities across the country to serve during school breaks. Donahue created CEP after he graduated.
Who Runs It: Donahue continues to run the program, while Northwestern serves as its nonprofit fiscal agent. CEP recently added the position of associate program director, and the organization also has a schools and communities coordinator and several part-time staff, graduate students, and work-study students. CEP hires teachers and college-age counselors to staff each field study project. The advisory board consists of student alumni, former staff, parents, teachers and nonprofit leaders.
Early Obstacles: Because of the risks associated with taking education outside of a traditional classroom setting, parents and school staff were reluctant to have their high school students travel far from home and become immersed in diverse communities, especially as part of a new program with relatively young staffers. CEP also struggled to obtain funding to pay staff, and to ensure an optimal amount of diversity.
How They Overcame It: CEP youth workers established credibility by working with schools and youths with whom staff had existing relationships, and by building connections with additional school contacts through references and word of mouth. The link with Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development brought prestige and name recognition to the initiative. Finally, CEP started to attract local press attention and won awards, such as the 1999 Social Entrepreneur Award from Youth Service America.
Cost: CEP’s annual budget is $150,000 to $200,000. The cost for student participants is $450 for week-long winter and spring break programs, and $1,900 for the more rigorous three-week summer courses.
Who Pays: The organization’s goal is to make the program financially accessible to any youth. Those whose families can afford the tuition pay for it. Working with local corporations and foundations, CEP provides financial assistance to more than half of all participants.
Who Else Has Kicked In: The Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, the Harris Bank Foundation, Youth Service America, and the Corporation for National Service. CEP also uses discounted Northwestern Uninversity resources such as risk management services, graphic design and printing services, vehicles and facilities.
Youth Served: In the 2000-2001 term, nearly 150 high school and junior high school students participated in 12 field study projects. In all, CEP has served nearly 250 youths, primarily from Illinois but also from 15 other states across the country. Almost half the participants are nonwhite.
Youth Turn-On: Traveling to new places, learning about new people, contributing to communities, and the potential to build strong connections with diverse but like-minded peers. They also find the relatively young staff personable and easily approachable.
Youth Turn-Off: The field studies tend to pack in a lot of intense experiences in a short period of time. Students at times grow tired or frustrated from 16-hour days filled with volunteer service, guest speakers, community tours and group-building activities.
What Still Gets in the Way: Recruiting more low-income and minority youth. Last year, CEP won an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer to focus on that task. In addition, CEP has had to balance growth with the commitment to high quality programs and sustainable organizational development.