360 Youth Services children

Empowering the Youth of Tomorrow

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 Joshua Beck

There are often moments that many people feel alone in their struggles. Nearly 80 percent of the individuals affected by depression do not receive treatment. Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 Million adults (6.7 percent) of the US population 18 years and older. Depression is the cause of over 2/3 of the 30,000 reported suicides in the US each year. The reality is that many of the people facing issues such as depression or who may have struggles in their life, feel quite powerless.

These statistics are dire and are a reality of the American daily life. Many people have been affected by or know someone affected by suicide or depression. Yet, it can be preventable when that depression is channeled and dealt with properly. Depression is a topic that I have highlighted in this publication in the past. This is due to the fact that the topic hits very close to home.

At 19, I was facing some of my darkest moments and attempted suicide. Yet, thankfully I am here today to talk about my struggles, bring awareness and most importantly highlight organizations that are fighting a hard battle, but doing amazing work right in our own neighborhoods. One organization in particular who helped me along my journey is 360 Youth Services: an organization dedicated to providing life-changing services through prevention education, counseling and shelter. Organizations such as 360 Youth Services helped me take back my power and realize that I was never alone, nor was I ever powerless.

The idea of empowerment is so imperative to the growth and development of today’s youth. When I think about the word empowerment, I am reminded of the struggles of my youth. The battles I went through growing up in the inner city to a single mom, the gangs and abuse I witnessed and the strength I gained by taking control of the direction of my life. I was able to give myself power through knowledge, through hardships and by the experiences I had and the lessons I learned. That’s not to say that I didn’t falter, I did many times, but in the end I picked myself back up and kept going. When you look up the definition of empowerment - it is usually defined as "to GIVE power". Rather, I would like for you readers to look at it as TAKING BACK your power. You own it. It is yours to take, no one can take it from you unless you let them.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Growing up I had a lot to fear. I grew up in a single-parent home, with a mom who as hard as she tried couldn’t shake the hardships we faced growing up. Whether it be the gangs, violence, drugs and alcohol she attempted to leave behind in Chicago or the violent and abusive boyfriends she brought into our home growing up. As the eldest of two children, I was born into a situation that ultimately should have led me to failure. I could have become a statistic.

“From their first day of kindergarten to their last day of school, Latinos, on average, perform far below most of their peers. They now constitute the largest minority group in the United States and the fastest growing segment of its school-age population. But it's a troubling picture. Latinos are the least educated of all major ethnic groups.”

Yet, even as a young girl – I have always had this inner drive and ambition to prove the naysayers and doubters wrong. I truly have always believed that I would never allow myself to become of a victim of my circumstance. Getting a job at 14 to help my mother pay the bills, working hard through high school to graduate early and become the first in my family to finish and move on to college. Despite the fact that I would have to live in daily fear of the violence in my home, struggle through late night battles between my mother and her boyfriends and understand that police visits would be a normal thing in my life.

At 17, I still had that drive yet, I was beginning to tire. I left home that year to figure it out on my own. With a full time job and my first year of college just months away – I graduated high school a semester early and forged out on my own. At 18, I brought my younger brother to live with me to escape the drama that still ensued at home. At 19, my mother moved in with me. Our reversed roles had continued and my exhaustion and depression began to deepen. I continued to carry a burden and didn’t allow anyone in on my secrets. No one knew the life my family endured and this is typical of my Hispanic upbringing. We don’t talk about our problems; we don’t “air out our dirty laundry.”

Yet, that is exactly what I needed when I thought the world and God had turned their back on me and at 19 I decided I didn’t want to go on anymore. A bad breakup, constant fighting with my mother and exhaustion from carrying a burden that no 19 year old should have to – the burden of being a mother to your mother and brother, while trying to find your way in the world without true guidance.

God had other plans though. A week after a stay in the ICU at Edwards hospital – I was given 2 options – complete an in-patient stay at Linden Oaks or check myself into a intensive 6 month program at Naperville Community Outreach – a place now known as 360 Youth Services. Fast forward nearly 10 years later and here I am a woman with a family of my own, a small business owner with an MBA and a college professor at 28. I still have that same drive and ambition and a mission to change the world.

During my program, one of the therapists shed light on something for me. She said it was almost as if I had a lapse in judgment that fateful night that I attempted suicide because it just didn’t fit my personality profile. She taught me that all I had to do was open up and that it was ok to feel down, it was ok to feel tired, but what the most important thing I could do with those feelings was how I decided to overcome them. Without programs such as 360 Youth Services, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Due to programs such as 360 Youth Services, our youth has a second chance, an opportunity to grow and a group of people who want to be a part of their success. That group of people is there to help guide underprivileged, minority and at risk youth who are like the girl I once was: wayward and lost, but filled with hope.

360 Youth Services is one of those vital organizations that help those who often feel they don’t have another chance, another opportunity or a way out. Yet, instead of just giving them a way out, 360 Youth Services offers youth the chance to learn skills that will allow them to see success into their adult life and ultimately create their own way out. The organization helps these young people who may come from challenging backgrounds find the strength within themselves to lead successful and fulfilling lives. They ensure that these individuals take charge and are responsible for their own success.

Over the last 7 months, I have had the opportunity to work with this organization as a volunteer. It has been an amazing opportunity to give back to a place that gave so much to me. What is most inspiring about this organization is the passion and drive the people who work for the organization have for the mission and community that they serve.

Two individuals in particular, Ron Hume and Nancy Wiersum, man the helm of this organization, but they always make it a point to credit their amazing team for the growth the organization continues to see. Their journey into this world is one that began with an interest in people, but that also developed from personal experiences.

Ron Hume, Executive Director of 360 Youth Services began his journey thinking he would become an electrical engineer, but as life often does, he was thrown a curve ball. His father passed away during his time between freshman and sophomore years of college. This tragic loss affected him beyond what he could handle. Ron lost interest in school, felt desolate and the emotional burden he carried weighed him down.

He often recalled thinking that, “no-one should ever have to go through such emotional turmoil without somebody there to help them.” Due to this, his life path changed and he found his way into sociology, psychology, and ultimately clinical psychology. His experiences helped shape the career he took on and instilled an immense passion for the work he does.

That passion and clinical background has helped him immensely as he continued on to his Executive positions; not only does he have the understanding of the work from a therapy point of view, but also from an administrative side which has allowed him to develop great teams and successful programs from the ground up.

Nancy Wiersum, Development Director, began her non-profit journey working with organizations such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She and her husband had a profound love of music and were 2 of the inaugural members of the organizations young professionals committee. It was an amazing educational experience and opportunity in terms of fundraising and subscriptions. Her passion for philanthropy and volunteering has always been a driving force behind her life.

Even as a mother with young children, Nancy found time to be of service to her community. She truly believes in the ideal that the non-profits in Naperville, truly “make up the fabric of the community." She frequently showcases other organizations on her show Spotlight on Naperville. Her degrees in Communication and Education have helped to ensure her ability to act in an organizational leadership role, but what ultimately led her to 360 Youth Services is her connection to a woman she met on the streets of Chicago.

One woman with a child, looking for a handout that was most likely passed up and ignored for years, touched Nancy to the core. This woman who experienced every barrier imaginable was the spark that led Nancy to civic duty beyond the arts. Rather, she found her calling helping those less fortunate. Nancy’s drive to help this woman educated her on the harsh realities of the issues behind the shelter system. “The very people who are supposed to be helping don’t even know the realities of homelessness,” she says.

Her experiences in helping this one woman shed light on her true mission in life and pushed her to work with an organization more aligned with that calling. She made the move and contacted 360 Youth Services to see if the organization was a fit for the direction she wanted to take. Her heart is committed to the vision of the organization and that has truly helped her help the organization succeed. Despite not having a clinical background, Nancy has immersed herself in the nuances of the services the organization offers in order to better serve the programs as well as her communities.

Success has directly been related to the fact that 360 Youth Services understands that in order to meet the needs of the people they serve, they must focus on the mission. Ron has also established an amazing team. As a leader he trusts them and allows them to do their best work. As an organization, they showcase to their donors the work they do and the differences they are making in the lives of the individuals that they serve. They must also connect with those donors in order inspire them to offer their support. This is imperative to the success of their organization and the backbone of the passion for the mission that is so deeply rooted in each individual who is a part of this organization.

Despite the success of the organization, there are difficulties that the agency faces. Competition is fierce and it is so important to truly showcase their mission and the changes that are coming from it. As is the case with many non-profit organizations, much of the money that helps to fund the services and programs that 360 Youth Services offers comes from the government. These funds can disappear so easily which can be a difficult reality to face. Political differences, changes in office and the like can cause the loss of funds in an instant. At the time of our interview, the organization had been facing the loss of funding for their girls transitional housing program for 7 months. Luckily, they recently received it back. Yet, due to this, the organization has made it a point to focus on growing their endowment, gaining the relationships with legislators and increasing private donor funds to better serve the needs of their public without having to rely so much on government funding.
A day in the life of a transitional housing client

Even though the organization has faced a few hiccups, 360 Youth Services continues to push for growth and success. Ron’s background has truly helped him to navigate the often murky political waters that surround non-profit funding in Illinois. Even when things seem rough and dismal, this group of people continues to forge on.

For example, the agency is working to help people that need them the most and after a recently received approval – they are including transitional housing for youth that associate with LGBTQ identities. The people who work at 360 Youth Services do their jobs without the expectations of even a thank you. They understand that the best thing they can do for the people they serve, is to allow those individuals to take ownership for the changes they make in their own lives.

These individuals who were lost, have truly become empowered. Offering programs such as Power of Choice and Operation Snowball help to educate students on prevention, mentor programs inspire youth and housing programs give young people the life skills they need to overcome homelessness. Each of these services helps youth to take back the power that has always been deeply rooted in their hearts. It allows them to develop the confidence to believe that they can overcome any obstacles that they may face.

Images courtesy of 360 Youth Services

Each employee who has a hand in this organization has a deep understanding of stewardship. Ron and Nancy both have faced instances in past position with organizations where ethics weren’t of the highest value. They left those roles in order to find an organization they could believe in and where ethics were deeply set within the ideals of the people and the mission. 360 Youth Services is that place for both Ron and Nancy. Despite these negative experiences, their hearts are still in it and they have learned how to do better with an organization such as 360 Youth Services. Showing people how they are making a difference is of the utmost importance.

Organizations such as 360 Youth Services need help from people like me and people like all of you readers out there. The reality is that in order to see change, we must be a part of the solution. To do that, we must be willing to offer ourselves to a mission. Nancy made an amazing point when she and I spoke. She stated that, “people intrinsically want to make a difference.” This sentiment resounded with me and I am here to tell each of you readers today that you can be a part of the change and can affect the lives of those who need your support the most. The beauty is that it isn’t just about money; it is also about the time that a volunteer can offer. Find something that inspires you and make an impact. Through hard work and persistence we can truly change the world and we must start with the children. Through education and reform we can begin to inspire at risk youth to take their destinies into their own hands. We can truly empower the youth that may feel desolate, lost and without direction.

If you or anyone you know in the Dupage County Area is facing depression and are in need of crisis support, contact 360 Youth Services: 630.961.2992. If you are outside of Dupage and you are in need of immediate help or having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention lifeline 24/7 at 800.273.8255.

Interested in 360 Youth Services?
Check them out here!

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