Watch CBS News

Evanston non-profit's lesson plans for youth evolving in post-pandemic world

Evanston non-profit's lesson plans for youth evolving in post-pandemic world
Evanston non-profit's lesson plans for youth evolving in post-pandemic world 02:37

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) -- A decades-old Evanston non-profit is adapting to the post-pandemic needs of youth in the community.

CBS 2's Jackie Kostek introduces you to a group of middle schoolers from Youth & Opportunity United as they prepare for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) competition.

School is out for the day in Evanston, and a group of middle schoolers is hard at work, building something they are proud of.

"It's like, hey I'm building this with my own hands. I get to see the final product from me," said 8th grader Arvin Powyer-Hutcherson.

The students, all part of Youth & Opportunity United, have designed, engineered, and are now building games that will be featured in a competition later this month.

"At the end of the day, we're really trying to promote success, well-being, and agency for our youth," said Youth & Opportunity United CEO Craig Lynch.

Lynch said the decades-old non-profit accomplishes that in two ways - by providing daily after-school enrichment activities for elementary through high-school aged kids, and connecting young people 11 to 23 years old with free mental health services.

"I think we realized that youth have been through so much trauma through the pandemic; whether it's from the school shutdown, and just the isolation, lack of academic stimulation for some, and the lack of social interactions," Lynch said.

Always a pillar of their work, Lynch said attending to the social and emotional needs of youth is needed more now than ever.

Evanston Township High School reported a 71% increase in suicide risk assessments for students in the first semester of 2022 as compared to 2020. Data from District 65, which includes schools in Evanston and Skokie, show a 20% increase in youth experiencing homelessness.

Now in 8th grade, Powyer-Hutcherson spent part of 5th and 6th grades in remote learning.

"My experience during COVID was kind of, I want to say, hard, I guess, because it was tough to talk to people, and even tougher to connect genuinely," he said.

While the pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge, it heightened Lynch's appreciation of the small wins. The knowing that being able to bring daily in-person programming back in the safest way possible made for a world of difference for kids like Powyer-Hutcherson.

"It is the best feeling ever. I can talk to people, and look them in the eye, and say  how their day is going, or what have you been up to. They can give a genuine answer, and that means something. I can feel it," Powyer-Hutcherson said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.