Resilience & Togetherness 2020

Nina West visiting Comer Education Campus on an unseasonably warm November afternoon. Nina returned home to Chicago in March and is continuing her college courses remotely during the pandemic.

"I didn't let the pandemic stop me from pursuing the things I wanted to do. For example, I didn't get the job I wanted, but that gave me room to improve as a person and gain more experience. I eventually got a job. I am resilient because obstacles can't stop me from pursuing my dreams."

——Nina West, Comer Alumna, University of Illinois, 22

How We've Responded to the Needs of Our Community in a Challenging Year

We've remained committed to providing meaningful education and enrichment programs through virtual and safe in-person learning experiences throughout the pandemic. When schools shifted online this spring, we adapted quickly, creating virtual engagement opportunities. Realizing how our families were affected by an evolving situation, we sprang into action as new needs arose.

  • We mobilized to address hunger and to provide social-emotional support.
  • We connected families with local resources and up-to-date facts and information.
  • We secured and distributed PPE, hand sanitizer, and tech supplies to assist with internet access for remote learning.
  • We stepped up our academic support for students and families to ensure that each and every young person we serve had the support, tools, and resources required to switch to remote learning.
  • We worked with South Shore Works and Chicago Connected to help families in need of high-speed internet access.
  • With funding from the State of Illinois, we've hired 12 recent high school graduates from the community to serve as tutors. Tutors receive training in best practices and workforce development. Our tutoring program pairs social and emotional learning with group mentorship and one-on-one tutoring. So far, we’ve offered 238 tutoring sessions with 83 students. We are working to hire more tutors and enroll more youth.
  • This summer when Chicago reopened under Phase 4, we began offering socially distanced programs in STEM, performing and visual arts, sports and recreation, culinary arts and nutrition, and urban agriculture.

Together, we nourish.

Since the pandemic began, the Comer Culinary Team has provided over 9,000 meals to families in need. The Culinary Team also employed 7 youth this summer as part of an ongoing 1-year apprenticeship. This Thanksgiving, we distributed 200 turkeys to our partners, community, and youth center members. We also provided 32 full meals, 75 backpacks with school supplies, and over 50 COVID info packets offered by ACCESS health at GCYC.

“Knowing we would have a fresh and healthy meal during the pandemic made things less stressful for our family.”

——Community Member

Since March, Comer Crops has distributed over 9,400 lbs (and counting) of free, fresh, sustainably grown produce within the community.

During the summer, Comer Crops handed out 1,330 individual bags, totaling about 3,400 lbs, of free, sustainably grown produce twice a week to youth, families, and community members in front of the center. Our Culinary Team also distributed over 1,000 lbs of produce used in daily meals so far this year. We donated about 3,000 lbs (and counting) to food pantries within a couple of blocks of the campus, and we partnered with neighborhood restaurants who have received over 1,200 lbs of our produce so far this season, much of it free or discounted.

“The meal service helped fill the void when we didn’t have enough money for food.”

—— Community Member

Together, we provide opportunities.

Climate scientist Shannon Valley speaks with students during Career Day.

This summer, we offered a variety of virtual employment opportunities covering media, technology, journalism, culinary arts and urban agriculture. We provided kits containing supplies and equipment and offered incentives for participants throughout the program. This allowed for an educational and tactile experience for youth to engage in activities at home. We provided laptops and other equipment to eliminate technological barriers and ensure youth participation. Learn more: 2020 Youth Opportunities Summer Showcase.

We hosted Dare to Rise, our first-ever Virtual Career Day, with 21 panelists and 300 young people participating. Our diverse panel represented careers from science and technology to the arts, from business to political activism. Youth reported that the experience inspired them to stay open to different careers, to never give up, to be focused and determined to succeed, and to not be afraid to do what they love.

Together, we’re inspiring the next generation of problem solvers.

4th Grader Rebecca Brutus tests her robot.

“I enjoy making and programming robots. I am learning how to program and how electronic items go, and how that relates to math and technology.”

——Rebecca Brutus

Lourdes Williams, Taylor Williams and Lyla Wilson

"Together," by students in this summer's art program, was inspired by Milton Glaser, a renowned graphic designer who passed away this summer. Glaser, an old friend and former colleague of our founder Gary Comer, actually designed the original Gary Comer Youth Center logo. He also designed several murals for the youth center, including the one pictured in the background. Glaser's typographic treatment of the word "together" was done in response to the pandemic, and our youth continue to reflect on what the word "together" means to them during this unprecedented moment.

Together, we are stronger.

We are looking forward to 2021 with hope and we are ready to secure the future for our young people and our community. We invite you to connect and get involved!