Highland Park Latino youth program at risk
Luis Jaramillo (left), a junior at Highland Park High School, meets with Cindy Camacho of Family Service's Latino Youth Initiative, which is facing a loss of funding from United Way. | Judy Fidkowski—for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 28, 2013 6:09AM
An after-school program for Latino teens that was launched with United Way seed money is now in jeopardy, because that agency’s funding will disappear in mid-2013.
Family Service started the Latino Youth Initiative in 2008 with $50,000 from the United Way. Over the past four years, the youth program has expanded and United Way currently contributes $50,000 toward the $80,000 budget. But Family Service has so far been unable to find enough replacement funds to ensure the program can continue.
“We knew that the funding was going to be time-limited. We just didn’t know when the funding would end,” said Paul Dean, executive director of Family Service, formerly known as Family Service of South Lake County.
Dean said that about 30 Highland Park High School students receive the vast majority of concentrated services, which include after-school support and guidance from Cindy Camacho, a youth and parent advocate. Camacho brings a holistic approach to the web of school, family and life issues that often pose obstacles to academic success.
Since learning its funding would soon end, Family Service has approached individuals, corporations and foundations. In November, program advocates, including Brad Swanson, principal of Highland Park High School, addressed the Highland Park City Council during 2013 budget deliberations. But council members were reluctant to take on a new commitment, citing tight finances, the program’s educational focus and the number of other agencies with a similar plight.
Many North Shore agencies have lost United Way funds that were long a staple of their revenue stream because the national organization has narrowed its focus to three areas: Education, health and income. Within its “education pillar,” funds are being directed at the critical preschool and middle-school transition years.
The Chicago-area umbrella agency is directing its resources to 45 communities with the greatest needs, including Highwood and Highland Park. According to United Way, 24 percent of all Highwood families with children younger than 18 are living at or below the poverty line.
United Way’s Jessica Vlahogiannis said funding for the Latino Youth Initiative was intended to last three years to allow stakeholders to develop and implement a plan, evaluate the program and secure long-term funding. United Way extended the funds for a fourth year while rolling out its education strategy because the program was showing success, she said.
“The initiatives … taught us that if we were to have the greatest impact, we needed to move upstream and focus our efforts on middle school,” said Vlahogiannis.
The United Way will continue to fund two other Family Service programs for Latino youth: The Youth Educational Support and Success, or YESS program, at Northwood Junior High School, and a program serving elementary school students at the Nuestro Center in Highwood.
Dean believes the biggest loss for the Latino community may be in Camacho’s ability to tailor a program to each student’s needs. He noted that all six high school seniors who received her help during the 2011-12 school year started with below-average grades. “Cindy worked with each one intensively on coursework and strategies for doing better. In collaboration with the high school, she took them on college tours and talked to college recruiters about the programs available for financial aid.
Said Dean, “Not only did all six of our seniors graduate, but all six are now successfully enrolled in college.”