NUDM Holds First Speaker Series, Highlights CYP

Jane Bachus

Nov. 28, 2021


EVANSTON -- Last weekend, Northwestern University Dance Marathon (NUDM) spotlighted its primary beneficiary, Chicago Youth Programs (CYP), in its first speaker series of the year. At the event, dancers and community members were introduced to CYP’s co-founder, Karen Sheehan, who addressed how and why the organization came to be.


CYP was founded in 1984, and Sheehan joined a year later in 1985. The idea to form CYP grew from a group of medical school students (including Sheehan) realizing that a once-a-year healthcare visit was not enough to improve a child’s health due to the multitude of factors that impact their well-being. The program began with 40 participants from the Cabrini-Green housing project who met with local medical school and law school mentors on a weekly basis.


As the program quickly expanded, Sheehan and other CYP leaders realized that while the weekly interactions with these children were beneficial, they were not enough.


Most children involved with the program expressed hardship caused by socioeconomic obstacles, Sheehan said. CYP leaders heard this call for help and believed the surest way to help was through education.“[Our goal] was to improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable youth so they could reach their full potential,” Sheehan said.


CYP expanded to develop mentorship, healthcare, academic and recreational programs for Chicago’s youth. The organization also widened its reach by offering services to participants as young as 3 years old through their college graduation.


In expanding its scope and reach, CYP consolidated its mission: to create an environment where participants feel supported and provide them with social skills and connections to assist them in their and their families’ lifelong opportunities.


CYP participant Malcolm Vinson commented on his experience in the program and how it has impacted his life.


Vinson was introduced to CYP through a friend, and after visiting on one occasion, he realized how comfortable he felt with the other participants and mentors he could look up to. CYP offered Vinson experiences he had never before dreamt of before becoming involved with the program, such as learning how to play golf on a CYP-sponsored outing.


As he got older, Vinson worked in the garden at a CYP center where he had the opportunity to interact with several of the younger kids in the program. It was in that garden where he realized that through being a participant, he had become a mentor as well.


Despite its exponential growth, both Sheehan and Vinson hope to see CYP further evolve. One of their goals for CYP is to expand throughout the Chicagoland area and eventually to have a national presence. It may not be that long of a wait for Sheehan and Vinson, as discussions are taking place for a development in Atlanta, GA.


If you have any questions about our speaker series or further engagement opportunities with our beneficiaries, please reach out to engagement@nudm.org.

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