Youth Development

At UCAN, we understand that young people want something different and are asking for resources and support. Often, they simply need the encouragement from someone who gets it to propel them forward.

On any given day, young people are faced with negative messages about who they are, where they live, and what they are doing wrong. For those exposed to trauma that is not properly addressed, their behavior can quickly spiral out of control as they navigate their environment along with the aches and pains of simply growing up. As one can only expect, they are not often equipped with the skills needed to navigate past these negative patterns towards a brighter future and imminent adulthood.

UCAN seeks to increase youth participation in leadership and development programming by expanding our services to meet an ever growing need. We know that our programs lead to a brighter future, improved life skills, feelings of acceptance and support, and a desire to play a more positive, proactive role in their environments.We design youth leadership services for young people between the ages of 12 to 24 to help them grow, learn and progress towards a bright future brimming with the promise of their potential. These culturally relevant efforts are rooted in a Positive Youth Development (PYD) framework, building on the strengths each young person brings while asking adults to listen and to be flexible.

The key principles of this framework are:

  • Focus on strengths and positive outcomes
  • Youth voice and engagement
  • Strategies that involve all youth (not just “high risk”)
  • Community involvement and collaboration
  • Long-term commitment

This leadership programming is driven by UCAN’s Youth Development Coaches, who operate as “engagement specialists.”

Our individual coaching model focuses on providing social and emotional support to the young people who seek out our services. Connections ranging from a phone call to checking in with a text message to visiting a young person’s school to sit with them at lunch – our model stresses engagement that makes the most sense for our youth. Individual coaching is often paired with group coaching, UCAN’s community-based efforts driven by volunteers and community-based groups.

These specialists are trained in human development and understand the impact of trauma. This work is extremely nuanced and designed to meet young people where they are so that we can help them to achieve their inherent potential.


UCAN groups that keep young people engaged:

The Express Performance Therapy program, founded in 2018 by UCAN therapists Dejanae Byrd and Deanna Pacelli, helps our youth explore new emotions and encourages self-discovery through acting.  Express encourages self expression through storytelling. For more information contact Dejanae Byrd at

Read an Express story.

UCAN Voices supports growth using music and spoken word. In its infancy, Voices was simply a way for three young men from Chicago’s South Side – Fred Long, Jason Daniels and Victor Spencer – to bond through their passion for song writing, freestyle rap and musical expression. Fore more information contact Jason Daniels at

Read a Voices story.

Phenomenal Woman and Project Visible Man are two gender specific mentoring groups that offer character development and support. For information on Phenomenal Woman contact For information on Project Visible Man contact

Read a Phenomenal Woman story here.

Diermeier Future Leaders Now (DFLN) is a 25-hour leadership institute for youth in programs & non-UCAN clients between the age of 13 -24 years old who are ready for leadership development. It also includes community service, job readiness training & exposure outings, all facilitated with a Positive Youth Development Approach. For more information contact Adreiona Jennings at

Read a DFLN story.

QUEST provides self-identified LGBTQ+ youth with therapeutic support through education, counseling and art therapy. The goal is to assist youth in their process of self-development through an exploration of identity, teaching coping and communication skills, identification and development of healthy support systems, and as well as goal setting, planning and achievement. For more information, contact Michele Grimes at

Read a Quest story here.

Exposure Outings
offers support and a learning opportunity with an outdoor focus. For many youth, traveling outside the city is a rarity and some have never left their neighborhood. Exposure Outings bring youth to camp sites, gardens, Lake Michigan and more. For more information, contact Andre Lee at

Read an Exposure Outing story here.