Turning the Cycle of Poverty Into the Cycle of Opportunity

According to Heartland Alliance’s report “Cycle of Risk,” 51.3 percent of Chicagoans are living in poverty or low-income households. Further, those who live in poverty are more likely to be victims of violence compared to those who live in higher income areas. Underserved communities suffer from an ongoing scarcity of resources that places poverty and violence at the heart of residents’ lives. SGA Youth & Family Services addresses the root causes through our continuum of services, the Cycle of Opportunity.

SGA begins with care to ensure healthy births, support young parents, and prepare children for kindergarten. We work alongside Chicago Public Schools and the juvenile justice system to provide the social-emotional support youth need to reach their potential. We also provide career training for young adults who are out of school — preparing tomorrow’s workforce while helping families earn living wages. Throughout our programs, SGA uses an individualized, strengths-based, trauma-informed approach. SGA’s case managers and counselors help clients overcome immediate barriers while laying the foundation for long term success.

Among SGA’s services are juvenile justice assistance and workforce training. Our Juvenile Intervention Support Center (JISC) program provides prevention services to youth ages 10-17 who are arrested for low-level misdemeanors, and at-risk youth involved in the juvenile justice system. In 2018, SGA provided these services, along with workforce training, to more than 1,600 youth.

Rayshawn, a young boy from Englewood, completed the JISC program and learned to resist violence in his community. Rayshawn was exposed to the ferocity of violence and poverty during his most formative years. Englewood is considered one of the top five most violent communities in Chicago, and the overall crime rate is 262 percent higher than the national average. All of the signs and symptoms of poverty — high rates of gang violence, homicide, assault and battery, drug abuse, and theft — put Rayshawn at risk for going down the wrong path.

This proximity to violence and a failing support system led Rayshawn and a group of friends to vandalize a home. Rayshawn was arrested and charged for damage to property, a misdemeanor crime. Luckily, the Chicago Police Department referred Rayshawn to SGA to meet one-on-one with a case manager.

Rayshawn and his case manager worked together to break the cycle of risk he had been stuck in. After a short period of time, Rayshawn’s grades improved and he found a more positive social circle. In this case, and many others, SGA disrupted the cradle-to-prison pipeline, which is tied to a child’s economic stability and experience of violence.

You can help youth like Rayshawn with a donation to SGA Youth & Family Services to help us continue the Cycle of Opportunity. SGA will host our annual benefit, “Building On Promise,” on May 2 at the JW Marriott to raise funds in support of our comprehensive services. Best-selling author Steve Pemberton will share his triumphant life story and speak to the importance of SGA’s work. Pemberton was orphaned into the foster care system and defied seemingly insurmountable odds to become a respected philanthropist and senior level executive. Come witness the impact of our work; reserve your tickets and view sponsorship opportunities now at SGAgala19.givesmart.com.


Susana Marotta, Ph.D., has served as SGA Youth & Family Services’ President & CEO for 20 years.