by Kaylynn Barker, Program Instructor
Working with the Teen Living Program (TLP) of Chicago was a very eye-opening experience both for the scholars in my Serving through Stem group and me. Though I’ve lived in Chicago for four years, I didn’t realize the extent of youth homelessness in the city until this project. The mission of the Teen Living Program (TLP) is to build community, hope, and opportunity for youth who are homeless. They address their immediate needs and help them achieve independence and stable housing.
We began the StS sessions by meeting with William Guardia, TLP Community Engagement Specialist. He spoke to us on what TLP does for youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago, such as making and distributing snack packs. We then watched and discussed the documentary Homestretch which chronicled the battles with homelessness of three Chicago teens, as well as exposed the funding struggles of other local homeless shelters.
The next day, our StS group visited the Belfort House in Chicago’s Bronzeville community. There, we worked with other volunteers to clean up their outdoor garden. The scholars were humbled by the experience, especially once they learned they weren’t allowed into the Belfort House because of how close their ages were to those receiving aid from TLP, and there was a high likelihood they would recognize some of the organization’s clients.
The task for our StS group for the remainder of the program was to help improve the snack packs TLP offers to the homeless teens. The StS group split into three smaller teams who then spent the next few days researching how to make the ideal snack pack that was nutritious, appealing to teens, and affordable for TLP. Scholars surveyed other teens in the Global Leaders Program, calculated nutritional facts for the entire snack pack to sustain a teen for an entire day, and created a prototype of their final snack pack ideas. On the last day, the teams presented their snack packs to Mr. Guardia, followed by a discussion on the best aspects of each snack pack idea. We then created a final snack pack we determined as ideal for TLP. It included bottled water, a choice of oatmeal or soup, a choice of granola bar or fruit snack, dark chocolate, and a small encouraging note written by the scholars to give the teens.
Through this project, the scholars analyzed the parts of their lives they tend to take for granted, such as eating until full and knowing where they’ll be sleeping every night. Even though we were unable to see firsthand how the hard work of the scholars would be implemented, the experience itself taught us all how much we have to be grateful for and how even a little bit of time donated to a cause can go a long way.
Kaylynn Barker is an undergraduate at the Illinois Institute of Technology studying Biology and Science Education. She is currently a student teacher at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, IL.