The Young Men’s Educational Network was started by the RESIDENTS of the North Lawndale community on Chicago’s West Side. Michael Trout and 12 young men started the organization in 1996. YMEN is an effective and dynamic youth leadership organization that was established to address academic and social needs that cripple the futures of our African American young men.
Offering 30 different programs, 7 days a week, YMEN provides year-round engagement and a sense of belonging to youth beginning in the 6th grade and continuing through college. YMEN creates a 15- year relationship with its students, helping them successfully transition from adolescence into adulthood by creating a safe place for them to learn and making meaningful investments by caring adult mentors. During this period, YMEN promotes healthy attitudes, growth in skills and knowledge, and appropriate behaviors while effectively helping youth overcome obstacles that stand in the way of academic achievement and responsible citizenship.
Why MEN? (Get it? “Y-MEN”)
We often get asked, “Why do you focus mainly on male achievement?” Here is our answer:
North Lawndale is the “violence capital” of Chicago; and Chicago is the most violent city in America. Ranked as the 13th most violent neighborhood in the United States, its crime rate is 500 percent higher than comparable neighborhoods in the country. In the last 4 years, there were more than 20,000 arrests of young men; and nearly 80% of the adult men have spent time in prison. With a male high school dropout rate of 67% and unemployment rate of more than 50%, nearly 90 percent of the young men who walk through YMEN’s doors are currently being raised without the presence of an active father.
The average male student in North Lawndale is three years behind in core academic subjects, misses over 17 days of school, is promoted only 78 percent of the time to the next grade level, and trails other CPS students by more than 20 percentage points in reading, math, and science on the Illinois state standardized tests. The result is that less than 3 percent of our young men make it through college.
"Anyone can be great because anyone can serve
-Martin Luther King Jr.
YMEN’s comprehensive programs offer a wide range of educational support, mentoring from positive role models, spiritual and emotional guidance, vocational classes in the arts, career-based and entrepreneurial education, sports and recreational activities, family supportive services, and service learning to more than 250 students annually.
YMEN’s 30 programs seek to build layers of support that ensures students will:
Have excellent attendance in school and in after-school programs
Graduate from high school and college
Participate in levels of leadership within the community
Have the ability to make a positive contribution in a diverse world
View themselves and others as valuable to God and society
Central to our programs is our mission: "To prepare young men and women in North Lawndale for leadership by helping them grow in their faith and character, develop a love for learning, and use their talents to serve the community and strengthen our families."
In 20, the Young Men’s educational Network launched Women of YMEN now called DELTA (Daughters Equipped to Lead Through Action), a leadership initiative for the young women of YMEN. DELTA is a place where each and every young woman gets an opportunity to break the cycle and grow in an environment where they are pushed to their individual degree of excellence. DELTA focuses on enriching relationships with other women, growing in faith and character and servant leadership.
YMEN and DELTA have a vision that the youth of North Lawndale will be the emerging leaders to bring revitalization and positive solutions to the community and its residents.
We believe that every student has the ability to use their gifts and talents to make a positive contribution to the broader community. It is our organization’s challenge to provide an environment where each young person can grow in their personal development and utilize their strengths in a leadership capacity. In order to accomplish this vision,
YMEN and DELTA will:
Foster relationships built on respect
Provide opportunities for continued personal growth
Achieve excellence in both programs and participation
Work for reconciliation between races, gender, and class
Value every person’s contribution
Seek continual improvements through innovation
4 Step Approach
Step 1: Ensuring a healthy transition from Elementary to High School
YMEN offers in-school programs at three local schools serving more than 150 6th- 8th grade young men and women. Utilizing a curriculum developed by the Urban Leadership Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, the Dare to Be King and Dare to be Queen programs are being offered at Mason Elementary, the Chicago West Side Christian School, and most recently Webster Elementary. This program helps youth overcome obstacles while building skills in conflict management, academic motivation, violence prevention, healthy decision-making, and positive peer relations. Students are able to explore issues of identity while building strong relationships with positive adult mentors who will provide a bridge of support as they transition into high school.
Step 2: Equipping high school youth to graduate on time
YMEN offers consistent learning opportunities through after-school programs every Monday through Thursday from 3:30-8pm. Our “Learn to Earn” programs incorporate individual academic support, a $40,000 on-site computer lab and Smart Board with robust college and career classes, youth employment and entrepreneurial training, and a wide range of arts programs including visual arts, music and poetry, health and fitness, as well as carpentry, and culinary studies. On Saturday, tutoring from 20 volunteer adults is available through the Saturday University Program. At YMEN, students do not need to choose between a job and learning. Our After School Matters program awards $18,000 of youth employment opportunities for students investing in their own educational growth.
Step 3: Supporting appropriate college and career placement
By creating lifelong relationships with our students, YMEN develops deep knowledge of each young person’s potential. This uniquely qualifies us to assist students in matching their college and career options with their skills and abilities. College visitations, white-collar internships with Exelon and ComEd, weekend leadership workshops with LAPC and CHIL as well as YMEN’s long-term mentoring network provide a community infrastructure for college and career matching. YMEN provides college scholarship support (up to $4,000 per year), a laptop computer, and continual access to YMEN’s staff and programs to ensure students persist and graduate with a college degree.
Step 4: Incenting YMEN leaders to return and reinvest
YMEN believes that long-term community development and transformation will be accomplished from within. YMEN has established creative incentives for our emerging leaders to return and re-invest in North Lawndale after college. First, through the Hooten Scholarship graduates can return to work full-time n Lawndale and receive up to $5,000K annually toward retiring college debt. Secondly, we have a residence where graduates can live in a fully furnished apartment at a below market rent of $350/month. Finally, YMEN sets aside 75% of their rental amount into a home-ownership escrow account. In the event they seek to become a homeowner in North Lawndale, YMEN will refund them up to $6,000 toward their down payment.