On June 9, over 420 supporters attended UCAN’s 17th annual Youth Leadership Awards Dinner. Businessman Frank M. Clark was honored with the prestigious John D. Nichols Impact Award for his dedication to Chicago youth. Five outstanding young people received awards for displaying exemplary leadership in various areas of their lives. Although some of the young awardees expressed initial stage fright, each eloquently delivered inspirational messages that spoke to overcoming challenging pasts and moving forward with hope for the future. With laughter, tears and warm hearts, attendees watched videos of the five awardees and witnessed them exhibiting UCAN’s vision that youth who have experienced trauma can become our future leaders.
We have exceeded our fundraising goal and to date have received $827,300 in pledges from our generous donors! We would like to express our sincerest gratitude to all sponsors, hosts and individual donors who helped make this evening a success. We would remiss if we did not thank all of the volunteers and staff members who have supported and encouraged our youth awardees throughout their time at UCAN.
We encourage you watch this video and learn more about this year’s awardees below:
Kenjuan’s perseverance and dedication to his education have been the driving force behind his many achievements. Although he has faced obstacles, he continues to work diligently to excel in his academic pursuits. Despite not having internet access at home, Kenjuan found ways to not only complete his work but maintain a 4.1 GPA. Kenjuan started in UCAN’s Project Visible Man program more than three years ago. These connections helped Kenjuan become a youth ambassador with the Illinois State Attorney’s office during the National Week of Non-Violence. His participation in this event also allowed him the opportunity to co-write a peace pledge that was adopted by youth groups nationwide. He accredits his perseverance to his mother who raised him as a single-parent and is currently pursuing a nursing degree. With a bright future ahead of him, Kenjuan plans to major in biochemical engineering.
“To be blessed with such a privilege has instilled in me an exponentially increased amount of motivation. Therefore, I can guarantee that I will live up to the expectations of being a great leader and that I will make my family, my supporters and UCAN proud. “’- Kenjuan, 2016
Yashaddai, or ‘Yash’ as he is known to most, has a deep sense of self–awareness that propels him to put his best effort into all aspects of his life. Yash came to UCAN more than four years ago and has been involved with UCAN’s Project Visible Man program. Often encouraging his peers to promote racial equality, Yash helped to organize the BlackOut Monday project in response to the racial discrimination allegations at Missouri State University. Yash further demonstrated his leadership abilities through his involvement in UCAN’s 2015 Youth Peace Summit where he served as a youth leader. Outside of UCAN he was invited to attend the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and received a scholarship to attend an entrepreneurship program at the University of Michigan. Yash will be returning to New York to attend Kennedy College where he plans to study business.
“Usually when society hears stories about youth with a past full of despair they automatically eliminate the possibility of a promising future. I’m going to change that. One should not allow the past to determine their future. “ – Yashaddai
Taffanisha, or ‘Taffy’ as she is affectionately known, attributes her strong work ethic to her experience with homelessness at the age of 14. Her resilience has provided her a strength that allows her to balance UCAN’s therapy, external social service participation and an active school life. Taffy demonstrates achievement in her continuous work on UCAN’s Diermeier Future Leaders Now (DFLN) Youth Advisory Board where she served as a motivational speaker at the Chicago Ideas Week program in 2014. She was a member of the Chicago Peace Hub Youth Council and was awarded both UCAN’s Youth of the Month and the Future Leaders Now Award in 2014.Despite her experiences as a youth-in-care, Taffy maintains a positive outlook on life and outlook towards the future. Taffy has been accepted to a number of schools and is interested din pursuing a degree in English.
“I heard about this award and to be totally honest I did not think that I would win…I have been through so much in my life. Now all the hard work I’ve done over the past three years is finally paying off. I have committed myself to a number of groups in and out of UCAN. I do community service projects all over Chicago. I am so glad to be making a difference.” – Taffanisha
Zachary ‘Zack’ Evans has a spirited approach to life and is determined to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Since coming to UCAN two years ago, Zack has been engaged in many initiatives involving racial inclusion and LGBTQI advocacy. Through UCAN’s Adventure Therapy program, Zack achieved the British Canoe Union One Star Award in kayaking and has become a certified kayaking instructor. Despite his difficult and trying background, Zack works towards establishing a positive sense of purpose and identity. Zack serves as a youth ambassador and sits on UCAN’s Youth Advisory Board. He also served as President of Lane Tech’s Gay Straight Alliance. Outside of UCAN, Zack demonstrates a strong work ethic by juggling gospel choir, dance, theatre and various athletic activities. Zack’s future plans include joining the Peace Corps and leading the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team.
“At age eleven I was filled with so much hopelessness that I thought of ending my life….…..I need to thank myself for deciding to stick around a little longer…” – Zachary
Breanna was placed into the care of the state at the tender age of four due to her parents’ mental disabilities. Her strength was tested again when she became a young mother and learned to juggle responsibilities between advocating for her son, for herself and for her parents. Breanna is proud of her perseverance and believes she has remained strong despite some difficulties and experiences with trauma. Breanna is on a steady path to success and was elected as the treasurer for UCAN’s Teen Parenting Services Network’s (TPSN) Youth Advisory Board. She brings many skills and talents to the group. Despite the internal and external struggles of being a teen parent, Breanna continues to strive towards excellence. She recently accomplished a long-awaited goal of graduating high school enrolling at Kennedy-King College. Brianna hopes to assist youth in the care of DCFS in the future.”
“I had no idea people looked at me as a leader…with this scholarship I plan on studying law to eventually become a lawyer…Thank you all for believing in me, investing in me and helping me towards a successful future” – Breanna
You still have the opportunity support UCAN’s 17th Annual Youth Leadership Awards Dinner by clicking here to make a contribution.