14 year-old Heaven Ross didn’t know how she would spend her summer until her mother mentioned a job program that is right in their own community. Our South Chicago Neighborhood Network partner offers a youth program called UNITY Squad to keep young people engaged and learning over the summer months. 

UNITY Squad serves children ages 14-16 and helps members gain core leadership and development skills. The program curriculum focuses on four core areas: leadership, trauma information, civic engagement and workforce preparedness. 

Due to the pandemic, this year’s UNITY Squad activities were held virtually, but that didn’t stop Heaven from getting everything she needed from the experience. 

“The best thing was learning about myself. I learned about a bunch of things that I never really knew I liked,” said Heaven. “I learned there are a lot of things in my community that are fun and it can be beautiful if we take the time to clean it up,” added Heaven. 

Throughout the virtual program, they did many activities that hit every core focus of the program while also making it fun for the members. Members learned how to save money, prepare for professional interviews, how to choose colleges, and ways to play a critical part in South Chicago’s growth.

While UNITY Squad ensures that their members learn about the beauty of South Chicago, they also make a point to teach them of the community’s hardships. Furthermore, the program shows members how to make a change in their community. 

Though the program is coming to an end, Heaven is holding on to the lessons learned. Being a part of UNITY Squad helped her break out of her shell with her peers and get civically engaged this summer.

 United Way supports the South Chicago Neighborhood Network to support youth to take action and advocate for local change.

“It’s really important for young people my age so we can learn about our communities and how we can all unite,” said Heaven. “You don’t have to wait until you are an adult, you can make a change in the world while you’re young.”

Meet a 2019 UNITY Squad member in this video below!

Donate today to support South Chicago’s youth uniting for their neighborhood.

Story By Jessica Jones, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist
2019 Video By Courtney Morrison, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist