Youth Leader II
UCAN (Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network)
About UCAN: The organization is a multiservice nonprofit that works predominantly with youth involved in Illinois’s child welfare system. Its programs include foster care, residential treatment, career training and independent living. Fred Long used to be a client of UCAN’s independent living program and one of its career preparation programs (called STARS). STARS has graduated 25 youths since 2003, and four are now full-time employees at UCAN.
His Job: Long helps to run two after-school programs in one of Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods. One helps youths develop musical talent or music production skills; the other, Project Visible Man, focuses on helping young black males deconstruct stereotypes about themselves. He starts the day at UCAN’s main office, returning e-mails and finalizing paperwork on the two programs for UCAN and its grantees. Three times a week, he crosses town in the early afternoon to go to the Cabrini Green neighborhood, and he runs the programs there with another UCAN youth worker from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Long recently won a “35 under 35” award from the Community Renewal Society, a faith-based community organization in Chicago.
Best Part of the Job: “Getting the opportunity to see young people grow so much, and getting to grow myself, as an adult.”
Worst Part of the Job: “Having to comply with others’ demands because they’re our funding source. We’re flexible to do that, but we can get much more done when we’re able to set the agenda,” as opposed to chasing money for specified projects.
Memorable Moment: Project Visible Man, which serves youth and young adults, recently graduated its first group. . “At graduation, a lot of the older guys credited a lot of their success to the work we’ve done with them,” Long says. “At that age, to be involved in something meaningful instead of a lot of other ventures … for a lot of them, it would be easier for them to go that route.”
A Growing Problem: “Chicago has always been a violent place. That goes all the way back to Al Capone. [The violence] is becoming more youth-driven. You see 12-year-olds, 14-year-olds shooting people. … That’s always taken place, but now is increasing. That is some of the reason [UCAN] looked at services for young men of color,” including the Project Visible Man program.
On Growing Up with Grandma and Eight Siblings: “Not only that! We had my cousins, and some of my brothers and sisters had kids. There were 21 people, and one bathroom. Being in that environment taught me a lot about family, and how to manage in real difficult situations.”
On a Certain Famous Chicagoan: “As an agency, there are ethical laws about us working on campaigns. Personally? With Barack [Obama], he’s just been a huge supporter of UCAN. I’ve sat in rooms with him before [talking about youth issues]. To see someone that I know on a personal level running for president, it definitely makes supporting him that much greater.”