While most teenagers were playing video games and hanging out by the pool every day, David Stinson spent his summer vacation focused on personal growth and improving his community.

A South Chicago resident and incoming high school freshman, David is a member of the South Chicago Neighborhood Network’s U.N.I.T.Y. Squad, a youth group for young adults ages 14 and 15. Through a curriculum of civic engagement, job readiness and trauma-informed care, the U.N.I.T.Y. (United Network Influencing the Transformation of Youth) Squad prepares local students to be leaders in their community. 

“We want youth to be civically engaged — volunteering and engaging with their community,” said Tiarra Owens, youth coordinator for the Neighborhood Network. “We also want them to learn that your voice matters and you can make change.” 

United Way supports the South Chicago Neighborhood Network through funding, trainings and connections to other local stakeholders. Together, the coalition identifies and addresses their neighbors’ most pressing needs, like investing in youth development programs and violence prevention initiatives. 

Over the summer, David most enjoyed learning about workforce development and different career paths he could one day pursue. “I want to see what other people go through in their everyday lives, and, who knows, it may help me pick out my career for the rest of life,” he said. 

He also met new friends who, likewise, want to uplift the community that helped raise them. David looks forward to reconnecting with them during the larger U.N.I.T.Y. Squad’s school-year program, which is open to students up to 17-year-olds. “The people here are really easy-going and easy to talk to. They make me feel like I found a family,” he said. 

David isn’t the only one to benefit from his participation in the U.N.I.T.Y. Squad. 

With other Squad members, he helped build a park in his neighborhood for youth and families to play. On a hot July day, he and the Squad also put on a PlayStreets event. Hosted outside of the local library, the kids fair provided a fun-filled, safe space for youth to hang out, eat good food and play. 

“It’s just a day when everybody comes out for some fun. It means a lot to me to be a part of U.N.I.T.Y. and this event,” David said as he led one of the game stations. “You know, our community isn’t bad, but it could use an uplifting. And with this program I feel like I can really make a difference.” 

Watch the video below to learn more about David’s experience.


Video by Courtney Morrison