25-year old Jason Henderson has been molded and shaped since he first stepped foot through the doors of the Young Men’s Education Network (YMEN) in sixth grade.

At the time, Jason always felt out of place. He hoped to find his purpose and way in the world.

“Growing up I always kind of felt distant from my family. YMEN offered a safe space for me to meet other people and grow in areas I never even thought of,” said Jason, who is now an intern with YMEN.

In time, YMEN gave him the community he was searching for. Today, the nonprofit organization continues to do that for the youth that come through its programs.

YMEN, a United Way partner, is dedicated to building the success of young black men in the North Lawndale area. The organization recently expanded to support young Black women as well and has an open door policy.

Through mentorship, educational programs and more, YMEN gives young Black men and women the tools and support they need to be successful and flourish in life. To do this, YMEN relies on the support of their community and partners.

“Young people thrive and shine when they are not only part of the solution but when they are given the resources to execute that plan and have the community back them up,” said Michael Trout, Founder and Executive Director of YMEN.

Last spring, when the coronavirus began to take a toll on our country, United Way teamed up with BET to host a benefit show — Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort — for nonprofits on the front lines. Artists like Chance the Rapper, Alicia Keys and John Legend entertained, while BET shined a light on efforts to support Black and brown communities across the U.S. Some of the funds raised through the benefit show were invested in United Way partners in the Chicago region, including YMEN.

Through United Way’s growing network, we’re able to harness national partnerships like this to invest in local efforts to meet our neighbors’ basic needs and build stronger neighborhoods.

With their grants, YMEN and its volunteers have hosted a handful of neighborhood pop-ups over the last year. They’ve distributed hygiene products, food and groceries, coats and winter gear, and Christmas gifts to nearly 500 families in the area.

The financial support has also helped YMEN fulfill its mission to be there for youth in all aspects of their lives, especially at a time when many young people are experiencing unemployment, grief, and isolation.

“We want every single young person to have a sense of belonging here,” said Michael. “We believe that we have a moral obligation to invest in young people.”

Michael created YMEN because he longed for an organization that would make young Black men and their development a priority. Since, he and the YMEN team have been cultivating young people, like Jason, into the leaders of tomorrow.

“I would not have the leadership experience I have if it wasn’t for YMEN walking with me and growing with me,” Jason said.

Make a gift to United Way to support nonprofits and community groups on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.


By Jessica Jones, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist