“Yo!”: The Winnetka Youth Organization

260x290WYOIn the lower level of the Winnetka Community House is a large room with comfy couches, game tables and a steady stream of activities including pizza and movie parties and video game tournaments.

At night, open mic events get kids writing their own music and singing and writing comedy and doing stand-up.

The Winnetka Youth Organization provides a safe space for kids ages 14-18 to go, outside of school. And in the past two years, the space has seen its attendance triple, thanks in part to a new executive director along with a growing, revitalized board of directors.

At the same time, major sources of funding have been pulled and the organization has been seeking to replace them.

“Winnetka is lucky to have this organization,” says executive director Liz Fales. “People who believe in this community are why it’s still here.”

John Thomas of Winnetka has been on the board off and on since 1986 and is energized by where the organization is heading. As someone also involved with the Winnetka Park District as a commissioner, he sees that the “Yo,” as it’s affectionately called, fills a gap.

“There’s no other entity outside the high school that has programs the kids are interested in,” Thomas says. “That’s why the WYO is considered a vital adjunct to the park district. The park district has no programs for high school teenagers.”

“Being a teenager is hard no matter where you live,” says Fales. “This community provides a lot of opportunity, but it doesn’t shelter kids from depression, anxiety or substance abuse. Our job is to provide mentorship and a safety net for kids who need it.”

WYO staff members have a unique relationship with the kids. They’re not a teacher, not a parent, but they are someone who can be there to support and mentor kids. It’s a crucial role to play in a teenager’s life.

What you can do to help:

The WYO is planning a social service trip this summer, and is looking for people to donate funds to help sponsor a teen. To do that, go to sponsor a teen. And, WYO is seeking new board members who are active and interested in teenagers. Please contact Liz Fales at 847/446-0443 or mail to: [email protected].