I’ve gotten quite a few phone calls and messages from young people who have gone through EEE’s programs in the past few years. Sometimes the calls are to find out if we have any upcoming programs or employment opportunities. Other times, they’re just checking in to let me know how they’re doing. I’m always thrilled to hear from our past program participants. I love to see the growth and transitions that they’ve made from their very first day of orientation, to where they are today.
I’m equally delighted to witness in a more “real-time” manner the changes as they occur with our active youth participants who have been in our program for several years. I ponder to what degree EEE’s efforts impact their lives. This isn’t for grant reporting purposes or for self-glory. It’s for the sake of possibly knowing that the very hard work, true commitment, and undeniable love that our staff volunteers, partners, and supporters invest, may empower at least one (though prayerfully many) of our deserving youth to enjoy a more enriched life.
When we founded EEE in 2008, I honestly didn’t anticipate that our programs and mentoring would become so important to so many people. And, there’s no way that I could foresee how important the youth would become to my own life. If you spend some time around EEE, you’ll hear me say, “I think I’m everybody’s mother.” I don’t take lightly the responsibility that comes with my “job”, and I hope that my commitment and desire to see them thrive is apparent to them.
I know that realistically it is not possible to quantify the residual effects of our programs. Sure, we can measure and track graduation rates, employment placement, recidivism, and such. But the true lasting results will become evident as EEE youth act to impact other young people who come along after them. These opportunities will come as our youth have their own children or become professionals, teachers, community leaders, advocates, etc.
One of the youth who reached out to me this week is currently enrolled in college and has displayed some of the same leadership qualities while away at school as he showed in our programs. During our conversation, he informed me that he had been elected to a leadership position in one of his school’s governance groups and that he had recently been in touch with some of the youth whom he had mentored through EEE. They continue to seek his advice and assistance, even as he is still sometimes in need of the same. Though I told him when we spoke, I wonder if he knows how proud of him I really am. He has overcome and continues to overcome obstacles in his pursuit of success. To see him today, one would not easily believe the activities and life experiences that he formerly engaged in. Yes, I am proud of him!
I connected with another young person who had been in EEE programs for several years. She came to EEE during her early high school years; I saw her persevere through the deaths of both parents, yet still complete high school on time and remain positive. When we communicated this week, she told me that she recently started a new job and is excited to be moving into her own apartment. Things have not been easy for her, and I am very proud of her strength and tenacity.
I am not proud of these youth because they’re perfect, or achieved the goals that I set, or walked the paths that I paved, or reached the milestones that society has said are important. I am proud of them and so many more of our youth, because they could have quit or chosen seemingly easier yet undoubtedly destructive lifestyles. Instead, they decided what was important to them, and they’ve utilized EEE and other supportive resources to help them attain their goals. In a world that too often expects them to fail, they are succeeding. I have great expectations for every one of my youth, and I’m so honored to be of service to them.
Kashanna Eiland is the co-founder and Executive Director of Empowerment through Education and Exposure, a nonprofit agency that promotes post-secondary education and career opportunities for Chicago youth. She is also a Social Impact Strategist and Speaker who aims to help socially conscious individuals and organizations bring their bright ideas to fruition.