12-year-old Afam from Bronzeville has always been a shy kid. They’ve never been the first one to speak up or volunteer. But being in school and around friends was a comfort. 

When the pandemic hit, Afam’s world changed. They’re no longer in school, can’t go outside to play and aren’t able to socialize with their friends as often. 

Youth and young adults like Afam are facing challenges that affect their home, school and social environments. Now, more than ever, they need community support, like local sports, academic and creative programs, and job and mental health services.

That’s why the latest round of grants from the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund (CCCRF) are supporting these very programs.

The CCCRF recently distributed $2.5 million in grants to community organizations serving Black and Brown youth and young adults impacted by COVID-19. Organizations receiving these grants provide services such as: mental health care, mentoring, arts and culture programs, youth employment, education, and violence prevention. 

Blackstone Bicycle Works is one of the grantees making life during the pandemic a little bit easier for youth. Blackstone provides youth with educational and vocational opportunities including: virtual programming, mentorship, college scholarships, and apprenticeships.

For Afam, Blackstone’s programs have made adjusting to the pandemic easier. 

Interacting with the other other students at Blackstone has been my main source of talking to other people aside from my mom. It has helped me cope with the pandemic and not being able to go outside that much,” Afam said. 

Blackstone offers students a Wednesday academic support class for students to talk about classes, vent about their online school experience and give them the support they need to navigate challenges during this difficult time.

“Our programs allow young people to feel like they belong in a certain place,” said DJ Fish, Blackstone’s Youth Service Coordinator.

With support from CCRF, Blackstone is able to support youth in the capacity they need. They’ve provided tech devices to youth that need them for online learning and other activities, too. 

My favorite thing about Blackstone is being able to have a community of people you can talk to and that support you in doing things. Blackstone has motivated me to do things that are constructive other than school work,” Afam said. 

Through all these supports, Blackstone is creating a community of youth that respect, love and support one another. 

“It is really helpful to have a program like Blackstone that I know is safe and is geared for them to grow,” said Anwuli, Afam’s mother.

With your donation, the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund brought critical resources to youth, families and nonprofits on the front lines of the pandemic. Thank you for your support, Chicago!


Story by Jessica Jones, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist