In preparation for UCAN’S 18th annual Youth Leadership Awards (YLA) dinner and fundraiser on Wednesday, June 28, a panel of judges screened more than a dozen talented youth nominees. The panel, comprised of board members, volunteers and UCAN staff, was charged with selecting five scholarship awardees. One youth will receive the $10,000 John E. Rooney Dynamic Scholar of the Year, sponsored by the family of the late John E. Rooney, former CEO of U.S. Cellular. The four other recipients will each receive a $5,000 education scholarship.
The Youth Leadership Awards is UCAN’s flagship fundraiser and is dedicated to celebrating the academic and personal achievements of UCAN’s exceptional youth. This year’s nominees come from a wide range of UCAN programs, including FamilyWorks, Violence Intervention and Prevention Services, Counseling and Youth Development Services, Project Visible Man, Diermeier Future Leaders Now, Transitional Teen Services and the Teen Parenting Service Network.
Interviews were conducted during the last two weeks of February. Nominees were asked about their personal and educational aspirations. The judges noted being moved by many of the youths’ answers; each had a story that spoke of perseverance and a desire to make an impact in the world.
Markell Bridges, UCAN governing board member and panel member, explained, “I have been involved with the YLA since its inception. As a board member, I was the chair for the Resource Development Committee when we had our initial YLA. The students are so impressive in their achievements despite the many obstacles they overcame and the challenges they face. I enjoy the stories that they share and their heartfelt and humble expression of appreciation.”
Yashaddai (Yash) Owens, 2016 award recipient, explained, “This scholarship has not only helped financially but also provided emotional support. Knowing that certain finances weren’t a concern relieved a lot of stress and made it easier to focus on my studies!”
Once notified, the winners will begin preparing for the event by writing a speech with speech coach and longtime UCAN volunteer Joe Friedman. Each year the awardees participate in a filming in which they share some of their personal experiences and talk about how UCAN has impacted their lives. Filming and production again has been graciously donated by FCB and is sure to be inspiring to the more than 400 supporters expected to attend.
Yash also shared some advice for the youth, “To this years’ recipients, kill it. When you are on that stage, articulate your words, slow down when you think you’re speaking too fast and leave a killer impression.”
We are looking forward to another inspiring evening as we highlight the bright and ambitious youth awardees. Their stories and success demonstrate that UCAN’s vision – youth who have suffered trauma can become our future leaders – is real. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities or to purchase tickets please visit www.ucanchicago.org/yla.