ENGLEWOOD — A South Side group is using a grant from an international corporation to guide young Black and Latino Chicagoans toward high-quality career paths.
Teamwork Englewood — a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life for neighbors through economic, educational and social opportunities — received a $75,000 grant from the PepsiCo Pathways to Readiness and Empowerment Program. Community organizations across the city received a total of $175,000 from the program.
Cecile DeMello, executive director at Teamwork Englewood, said the grant will support two initiatives: hiring more staff who can host programs for students and boosting mentorship and post-secondary activities that lead to careers. The latter will involve taking Englewood students to PepsiCo offices across the city to learn about jobs at the company.
“Youth in Black and Latinx communities don’t always have people in their families and in their networks that show different types of diverse career paths for our communities,” DeMello said. “This opportunity with Pepsi highlights all of these different career paths within one industry. And that’s why I’ve been really appreciative of this collaboration.”
When Avanii Hazzard, mentoring program coordinator at Teamwork Englewood, asked high schoolers in her youth program what careers they’d like to pursue, the focus was always around money, she said.
Most of Hazzard’s students are already tackling the responsibility of paying a phone bill or helping around the house, Hazzard said, so becoming a rapper or movie star, playing basketball or singing all made sense in the grand scheme of an expensive life.
But the PepsiCo funding will make it priority to expose students to careers and internships outside of what they might know, Hazzard said. She and DeMello plan to have instructors visit the youth to talk about careers and offer an “on-site and hands-on experience” the next. They also plan to take students on college tours.
And for students balancing bills and books, Teamwork Englewood will offer a stipend to help them stay involved in “positive programming” rather than chasing a job that doesn’t support their growth, DeMello said.
Already, students have begun to show interest in careers in a wider variety of careers, Hazzard said. High schoolers in the group’s Civic Leadership program have told Hazzard they are interested in everything from “being a mortician to engineering, modeling, entrepreneurship and even being an investor, like stocks,” Hazzard said.
“It’s important that we get our youth into sustainable careers and sustainable placements where they can live the life that they desire to live,” Hazzard said. “They understand now at a young age that you need money in order to survive.”
Teamwork Englewood has hosted youth programs throughout neighborhood schools for years. During the pandemic, it transitioned to hosting a myriad of programs at Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood St., which was closed by the school district last summer.
But despite its growth, the organization has always had to find a way to function under a “very small, structured budget,” DeMello said.
The grant will enable the group to expand its operations faster and, hopefully, help other community youth organizations do the same, DeMello said.
“We want our peers in this community to be along in this journey,” DeMello said. “We know we can’t do everything by ourselves, so we also hope that we can continue to build capacity for other youth organizations as well. We want to share best practices, learn from each other and create a network of strong youth providers in the Englewood community.”
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