Bronzeville Builds Pipeline for Youth Employment

Despite its great cultural and economic contributions to Chicago, Bronzeville is still recovering from decades of divestment. To address the existing inequities, a local non-profit is making long-term plans to revitalize the community through its workforce. 

To spur lasting change, Bright Star Community Outreach invests in Bronzeville’s future —  its youth.

By expanding on a citywide, summer youth-employment program, the community non-profit is laying plans for an employment pipeline that connects local youth to summer jobs and internships and prepares them for higher education and/or rewarding careers. 

“We believe that if we can begin with the young people and set them on a trajectory of success, then we can impact the landscape of the community,” said Nichole Carter, director of community strategy and development for Bright Star Community Outreach.

Community tackles inequalities through workforce development

Bright Star Community Outreach (BSCO) is the lead agency of the Greater Bronzeville Neighborhood Network, a coalition of 13 community partners supported by United Way of Metro Chicago. The partners —  including social service agencies, schools and healthcare providers — work together to offer solutions and services aimed at reducing poverty and violence by enhancing employment and career opportunities for its 42,000-plus residents.

For decades, the city’s investment in Bronzeville has been disproportionate to other communities. Presently, the neighborhood has 19 percent unemployment rate and $29,500 median income. In 2013, the city closed 50 public schools, primarily in communities of color. A handful of schools in the greater Bronzeville area were shuttered or reconfigured during the process.

“The message that was given was ‘education is not that important in Bronzeville.’ Now, what do we do for some of those young people who may become disenfranchised or disconnected from education?” Nichole asked.

To answer that question, BSCO is filling the gap through youth training and employment opportunities.  

Summer jobs train youth in new fields

In just a few months, 250 Bronzeville youth ages 14 to 24 will kick off their six-week summer program with BSCO community partners.  As part of the City of Chicago’s One Summer Chicago program, BSCO pairs students with job and internship opportunities that closely align with their interests. There, they will enhance their skillsets and build professional connections.

This year, some 14-to 15-year-olds in the program will be placed with partners who provide leadership and advocacy skills training, while others will work on a community project to collect their neighbors’ oral histories and research leaders in their community. They’ll receive a stipend for their participation.

Youth ages 16 to 21 will be placed in one of four cohorts —  property management, civic engagement, leadership and pharmacy —  where they’ll earn an hourly wage by providing administrative, maintenance and resident services support to a management company; completing administrative work in local government officials’ offices; participating in a leadership and entrepreneurship training; or serving under technicians at a local pharmacy.

They’ll also join their fellow cohort members for community building activities.

Building a pipeline from summer jobs to careers

Though the summer employment program is short-term, BSCO envisions it as a pipeline to a rewarding career and a brighter future. The summer jobs and internships are the youth’s entry point.

At the end of the summer, Nichole’s team at BSCO encourages students to nurture the professional connections they’ve cultivated and pursue further opportunities with the partners.

“We’re hopeful that some of the relationships that we build will result in mentoring relationships that will extend to support that youth will have during the school year and also in the years to come,” Nichole said. “We’d like for youth to come back to us next summer with some different skills and experiences that we can build upon.”  

For those who have graduated high school, BSCO is hopeful the summer placement will catapult them to living-wage career opportunities. As an extra layer of support, BSCO works to connect youth to partners who can provide additional employment services.

“For students who may not plan to go to college or can’t afford college, this program gives them a certain experience that helps them obtain a job that sustains a household and not just a job where they’re living paycheck to paycheck,” said Kathy Cullick, BSCO community coordinator.

“College is not for everybody, and that’s okay,” Nichole added. “But a pathway towards success should be available to everyone.”

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Bright Star Community Outreach is currently recruiting youth for the 2019 One Summer Chicago program. To apply, visit For additional information about the BSCO positions, call 773-741-4667 or email

(Photo courtesy of One Summer Chicago)

What’s a Neighborhood Network?

The team at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago had an idea. They already knew that the people best equipped and most dedicated to creating positive change in their communities were the members of the community themselves. They saw that in Chicago, nonprofit organizations and human service providers were already working to establish affordable and comprehensive health care, safety regulations and engaging educational programs for their residents. But these groups weren’t always working in sync, and were often severely underfunded. United Way thought that that by connecting these partners, leveraging their capabilities to help each other share knowledge and resources, and combining their voices to be heard, these communities could become louder, stronger and more impactful. The Neighborhood Network Initiative was born.

Ten communities comprise the Neighborhood Network. They each have a lead agency–a partner organization in the community that serves as the director for that Neighborhood Network. They also have their own Community Engagement Manager from United Way who connects the work in the communities to United Way. Each Neighborhood Network was chosen “based on both level of need and their capacity to improve lives for their residents with the additional investment, partners and strategies of the Neighborhood Network model.” After connecting agencies and organizations in the community and bringing them to the table, the network chooses a bold goal, a concrete objective they will work to achieve in the coming years. These goals are long term, as is all of the work being done by the Neighborhood Networks–their purpose is to create lasting change by attacking systemic issues with an integrated, focused and community level approach.The neighborhoods are divided into cohorts based on their level of progress in establishing their bold goals, finding partners and establishing organizational permanence. Cohort One, the most developed neighborhoods, is made up of West Chicago and Brighton Park. Cohort Two includes Evanston, Austin and Little Village, and Cohort 3 includes Auburn- Gresham, Bronzeville, South Chicago, Cicero and Robbins/ Blue Island.

Community organizing in the Neighborhood Networks is based on the concept of collective impact. “Collective impact is a proven, effective framework used to bring a range of actors together to solve complex social problems. Unlike partnerships or traditional collaborations, collective impact moves participants to act beyond their self-interest and to act towards a common (community) interest.” There are five basic tenets of collective impact–shared measurement, reinforcing activities that establish a coordinated plan to address an agreed upon problem, a common agenda, continuous communication and a backbone organization. For the Neighborhood Networks, United Way serves as that backbone–providing funding, connecting partners and keeping the networks on track to meet their goals. They also provide a sense of legitimacy to their member agencies, attaching a trusted name to the work they do in order to find more partners and secure additional financial backing.

The purpose of the Neighborhood Network Initiative is to organize and invest in communities that are working to help their residents all fulfill their human potential and increase their quality of life. The role of United Way is not to tell these neighborhoods how to operate or what to do. Rather, they work to keep these networks focused and financed so they can fulfill the needs of their own communities and create lasting change. Check back in with our blog or with the neighborhoods’ home pages to learn more!

Blog submitted by: Elana Ross, Intern, Public Policy and Advocacy