JLC’s Teen Exodus: Helping Chicago Girls Grow into Successful Leaders

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Girls Grow into Successful Leaders: The JLC’s Teen Exodus program, a unique opportunity for Chicago middle- and high-schoolers in the Chicagoland area, was born out of a partnership with Chicago Youth Programs (CYP).  Teen girls in grades 7 to 12 apply to JLC’s Teen Exodus program and, if accepted, meet every Saturday with Teen Exodus committee members. Alex Doctor and Sarah Lux, chairs of the Teen Exodus program, do their best to offer the young ladies experiences to which they may not typically have access, including self defense classes, cultural and art museum trips, and educational programs focused on life skills. The teens get to lunch with their cohorts and JLC volunteers as well.

In communities where just one-third of youths graduate from high school, more than 90 percent of Chicago Youth Programs participants not only stay in school, but also avoid criminal conviction, teen parenthood and gangs, according to the organization. The youths are also less likely to sustain injuries due to the use of drugs or violent activities, CYP reports. From 2014 to 2016, every CYP high school graduate moved on to institutions of higher education. Putting in over 700 volunteer hours each year, JLC’s Teen Exodus committee plans some 25 events with CYP to provide safe and healthy mentorship and opportunities to 30 young women every school year.

The opportunity to mentor these young women is not about logging hours; its about making their time together count. JLC Teen Exodus committee co-chairs Alex and Sarah discussed the importance of forging trust-filled relationships with the young ladies, which starts with the basics, like memorizing the girls’ names. The co-chairs say developing trusting relationships with the teens offers the youths an opportunity to gain a confidant should they need someone to talk to outside of their home and school environments.

Teen Exodus participants often return to the program each school year. As a result, JLC mentors watch as the young girls grow from 7th graders to high school seniors ready to enter the world as adults.

“Getting to create strong one-on-one meaningful relationships with them and seeing the girls really appreciate and benefit from the programs” is what makes the program so special, according to Sarah. Many of the participants in Teen Exodus grow up to be natural leaders within the program, taking on responsibility and helping to care for the younger girls in the program.

Many of the Teen Exodus committee members foster long-term relationships with the teens that goes beyond the programs, with some JLCers attending the students’ basketball games and ballet performances. Seeing the girls mature, take their SAT’s and become college applicants is a special experience for JLC Teen Exodus committee members. After graduation, some JLCers and former Teen Exodus participants continue to stay in touch, meeting up for coffee and remaining involved in each other’s lives well after their time together in the program has ended.

For more about Teen Exodus and other JLC volunteer programs, visit our Community Projects page.

By Sierra Powel-Smith, 2017-2018 Topics & Trends staff member

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