African American Legacy awarded funding to UCAN, a social service agency that works with youth and families, providing mental health, foster care, violence prevention and other comprehensive services.  The 147-year-old organization works across metropolitan Chicago and is headquartered in Chicago’s North Lawndale community, the home of its violence prevention programs.  UCAN’s Voice Not Violence project was its 360 Community program.

On Standby: UCAN’s Youth Development Coaches


A caring adult in the lives of troubled youth makes all the difference

UCAN has a long history of serving Chicago’s most at-risk children, with an acronymic name rooted, in part, in the hope held for youth: Ulrich Children’s Advantage Network.

Yet it would be difficult to see the advantages held by the young people enrolled in the UCAN 360 Community program. To participate, the 12 -24 year olds had to meet at least one of the following criteria: recent shooting victim; gang member or leader; arrested for or charged with a violent crime; not enrolled in school or truant; recently discharged from a juvenile justice program or the Illinois Department of Corrections; or are actively participating in violence.

With the 360 Community program, young people are connected to a youth development coach. Working in small groups each week, the youth set goals for behavior, education, life skills and more. Some receive a trauma screening to assess their exposure and reaction to home and community violence, some are referred to group therapy or other mental health services, others benefit from leadership training and life-skills coaching. All of them are tracked for follow-up support, the kind of well-rounded, all-encompassing support you’d expect from a program by this name.

These youth have been described as being both tough, and tough to work with. The reality is that they are both, says Jacob Dancer, a UCAN program manager in the violence prevention services department. “Our youth have had many people fail them,” he says. “A caring adult is one of the most important factors for our young people in the North Lawndale community.”

UCAN’s youth development coaches provide the kind of care and mentoring these young people need: a listening ear, high expectations and genuine concern. Many of the coaches are from the same neighborhoods as the youth, a trait that adds credibility to their work. They are willing to take calls any time of the day or night, to meet with young people’s families, and to stand with them as advocates during criminal justice proceedings. Each act is a trust-building step in their relationships with participants. While other adults may have disappointed these youth, the mentors work hard to stand by them.

“What we’re seeing is that the simple interaction of a caring adult is a game changer,” says Norman Kerr, vice president of violence prevention at UCAN. “We have kids who have school available to them, all these resources in the community that are available to them, but the caring adult really makes that connection happen. Many of them have parents and different levels of involvement of the parents. Some of them don’t identify parents as caring adults.”

UCAN’s coaches reached more youth and stemmed recidivism with support from African American Legacy

5 Big Achievements

direct services

Four years ago, UCAN wanted to double its youth development coaching staff from one person to two; today, there are six coaches, with plans to grow to nine. Four years ago, UCAN had a goal of serving 45 high-risk youth; the effective, street-level outreach efforts of 360 Community meant that 157 youth were served. More than two-thirds of that group were new referrals to the agency, 86 percent of the group received trauma screenings, and 77 percent of the group now have independent development goals to keep them on-track for success.


Of the program’s youth, 78 percent have had no arrest during the grant period, and there has been a 35 percent increase in participants attending school regularly.

and resource

Through relationships UCAN has developed with other nonprofit agencies, 70 percent of the youth in its program are now connected to other organizations that help address their needs, from mental health services to mentoring to housing; this is a dramatic increase from just 6 percent a few short years ago.

New community

To better refer its youth to programs and services that meet their specific needs, UCAN has deepened or developed partnerships with several local nonprofit organizations, including Night Ministries, the North Lawndale Boxing League and I AM ABLE.


Gathering young people at schools, parks and community centers, UCAN held 32 life-skills meetings to help young adults solve issues around violence, anger-management and relationships, while also deepening its work in the North Lawndale and Garfield Park communities.

We have something to say about the power of collective giving to improve the quality of lives of African Americans in Chicago: It works.

Amplify this work

Show your support for the African American Legacy by:

  • Sharing this story on your social-media networks
  • Visiting the UCAN website to learn more about its work
  • Donating to African American Legacy to pool gifts with others who are passionate about improving the quality of life for African Americans in Chicago



If you’d like to be informed when our next grant cycle opens fill in form below.

    © Copyright 2016 African American Legacy. Website design, animation and content by Art On The Loose, Inc. Video production by Epilog Media Design Group. Original photography by Lauren Harris, Tommy Inglis and Jason Jones. Additional photos and footage courtesy of Bruce Powell, Jean-Marc Giboux and the African American Legacy grantees.


    225 N. Michigan Avenue
    Suite 2200
    Chicago IL 60601
    FAX: 312.616.7955