SAVING OUR SONS

A project by journalism students in the convergence newsroom at Roosevelt University.

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A crown jewel and safe-haven for kids


The sounds of laughter and playing rang out from a classroom and down a hallway towards the front of the building. At the entrance, a fish-tank hummed loudly while fish swim lazily. Across from the tank, a case proudly displays trophies documenting the achievements of the center. At a large circular desk surrounded by pictures of kids, information, and a large piece of white paper covered with children’s handprints, Ms. Campbell, a parent-volunteer, sits, greeting parents and children.
 Soon a white van pulls up and more children run screaming and laughing through the front door, calling out greetings to Ms. Campbell, signing in and running to a classroom down the hall.
        It was just another day at the Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center, located in the South Shore neighborhood, at 7601 S. Phillips Ave..
           The Rebecca K. Crown Center is a part of the Chicago Youth Center organization, founded in 1956 by Chicago businessmen Elliott Donnelley and Sidney Epstein, according to CYC’s official website. It was started as a way to give inner-city and impoverished youth an alternative to hanging out on the streets.
             The Chicago Youth Center started with the merger of three boys clubs that were on the brink of collapse, according to CYC literature. It was this merger that started the first youth center, which, according to CYC, was the first in the city that also accepted girls into all the programs the CYC offered.
              In 1977, the South Shore neighborhood welcomed the CYC with the South Shore Community Center.   It was later renamed the Rebecca K. Crown Center in honor of a Crown Family Foundation grant, according to the CYC’s website.
              At the center recently, Michelle Myers, a youth worker, ushered the after-school kids into a classroom for their afternoon snack.
            “A program like this makes a world of difference” Myers’ said. “It shows them that somebody cares.”
             According to Eddie Wilson, director at Rebecca Crown Center, the after-school program, which gives kids a safe place to do homework and other activities, is one of five programs offered by the Rebecca Crown Center.
 The center offers a head start program that is taught by bachelor’s degree-level teachers and gives children ages 3 to 5 the chance to experience a creative curriculum.
There is also a teen leadership development afterschool program for 13 to 19-year-olds. This program offers teens activities that include tutoring, violence prevention, life skills development and sports.
And during summer, there is a day camp that offers children, 5 to 12, safe recreational activities during the day in the summer, including arts and crafts and field trips. The Rebecca Crown Center also offers a College and Career Readiness program that helps the kids understand the importance of college to their future success, according to Wilson.
Myers said she started working with the Rebecca Crown Center because her daughter was in the head start program. She now works at the center with the afterschool children. She said that places like the Rebecca Crown Center, are very important in inner-city neighborhoods. The center offers kids a social education, each day children from different neighborhood schools come to the afterschool program, allowing the students to make connections they might not have made on their own.
One recent afternoon, after the children had their snack, they went into the large gymnasium to play together. On one side of gym, a group of boys played a half-court game of basketballs while girls jumped rope. Some of the parent-volunteers and teachers stood around the gym and talked to each other and other students, while other’s played with the students on the court.
The staff at the center spends a lot of time with the kids and becomes mentors to them. Myer’s said that when she misses a day of work the kids notice and go out of their way to find out why she was not there with them. She said that children here put their trust in the staff because the staff cares about them.
 “For four hours, the kids know they will get love, food and exercise,” Myers added.
  According to Wilson, the Rebecca Crown Center is funded through a mixture of federal, state, and private or corporate donations as well as parent fees. Parents also help the center by volunteering their time and services.
Ms. Campbell has been a part of the center for almost 20 years, her children started at the Rebecca Crown Center in the head-start program. Even after her children left she stayed on as a volunteer at the center because of the impact the center had on children.
    “The center makes a big difference on children,” Campbell said as a child ran past her. “They have people other than their parents that love them.”
     Since the center runs programs from head-start to a teen program, many siblings are at the center together, giving them a chance to spend time together instead of doing something on their own at home.
     “This center is a family affair,” Myer said.
     As the day went on, it became evident that parents and the community were a prominent part of the Rebecca Crown Center. Posted around the entrance were flyers for upcoming events and a box collecting toy for the center’s ongoing toy drive.
Wilson said that he wants the center to be a beacon of activity and information for the community we serve.
            “I want the center to always be relevant to the community and to do that we must be involved in the community and grow and change as the community grows and changes,” Wilson said.
By Erika Powell

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