Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and Abercrombie & Kent Join Forces to Empower Downtown Youth


Last August, six young people were selected under the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago (BGCC) Great Opportunities (GO) program, a program that aims to connect club members with college scholarships / academics, tours and career paths, to participate in a program with Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy to explore the tourism industry and the American West. Joined by BGCC staff and mentors, the participants embarked on a 13-day trip to Utah, Wyoming and Idaho that allowed them to meet and engage with people working in different industries, prompting them to consider a career path that they may not have previously considered. .

They had the opportunity to interact with a variety of professionals ranging from farmers and innkeepers to US rangers and rafting guides. In addition to learning about the variety of professions in the travel and tourism industry, participants also experienced a personal transformational journey, with the journey incorporating elements of mindfulness and internal exploration such as journaling and yoga.

Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy was looking for ways to become more involved in helping local communities in the United States and BGCC was an excellent choice due to its variety of support services and career development opportunities for young people in the United States. downtown. The goal of this powerful partnership was to introduce young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to careers in tourism and they achieved their goal. I had the privilege of learning more about the program during an interesting conversation with Dr Vicki Lee, BGCC Program Manager and Keith Sproule, Executive Director of A&K Philanthropy. Take a look below.

Chicago Defender: How were young people selected to participate in the program?

Dr Vicki Lee: The six young people who were chosen are participants in our Great Opportunities program. The program serves participants aged 16-24 and aims to connect youth club members with a variety of college / university, scholarships, tours, and career paths. We publicized this opportunity, asked them to apply and participate in interviews. From there, the committee selected the group for the trip.

Chicago Defender: Why was it important to incorporate mindfulness and internal exploration on this journey?

Dr Vicki Lee: Through this experience, the youth were on a personal transformational journey that incorporated elements of mindfulness. The youth participated in a guided and facilitated exploration with activities such as journaling and yoga. This component was important because it showed our young participants new ways to focus their energy in a positive way. It gave them the opportunity to take a moment to really discover their own skills, passions and dreams for the future.

Keith Sproule: I think while we were developing the route, we structured activities like hiking, horseback riding, river jumping, visiting the national park, and rafting. However, these activities can stay at the surface level if you can’t figure out how to relate this raw experience with lives lived in a more urban environment. Ensuring mindfulness has become an integral part of how we have designed this trip. We had to make sure that the mindful part of this trip was something they could build on besides having memories of other experiences.

Chicago Defender: Who were the focal points of mindfulness activities?

Keith Sproule: There were mindful practitioners who were there with us throughout the trip. One subject was give the best of yourself and identify the qualities you would attribute to being the best in yourself. For example, on the eighth day of the trip, there was a conflict. One of the mindful practitioners understood that this would be the case. While everyone was wondering how we were going to handle this, the mindfulness trainer saw this as a perfect opportunity to teach an element of mindfulness. So, she got up early the next morning and facilitated a dialogue and asked two basic questions: Is that how you wanted to be? Did you really give your best? At the end of the session, we did a vespers service where we asked the students to take ownership of the experience and highlight the things they learned and what were the best parts of it. Both people involved in the conflict said they learned lessons from it and will take a moment to pause and remind themselves to be their best whenever they find themselves in such situations. . The purpose of the activity was to break the learned patterns that we have and that we are not so proud of.

Chicago Defender: What prompted Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy to become more involved in local communities in the United States?

Keith Sproule: We don’t have a big national product. We don’t sell a lot in the United States. Most of our trips are international and therefore our community development support is in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In the context of 2020, it is truly the leadership and staff of our company who have addressed issues of social justice and racial equity. We started having internal conversations about how we can do something about these issues nationally and we gladly took the call and found the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago to partner with.

Chicago Defender: Why is it important for this generation to learn about careers in tourism?

Keith: Sproule: It is important for this generation and this demographic to know about tourism. Travel and tourism is the biggest industry in the world when we include all the backlinks. There are so many different components in the industry and there are so many opportunities for those entering the career field. We want to make sure people are aware of this. Second, we don’t have enough diversity within the industry. We therefore intended to expose the opportunities in this industry, particularly within our company, to the members of the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Chicago Defender: Will the program extend this opportunity to young people throughout the year or will it only stay during the summer months?

Dr Vicki Lee: Right now we have an open dialogue about how to create truly meaningful and life changing experiences for other young people. We are definitely discussing how we can continue this relationship. We know this was important to our youngsters and it gave them something to do during the summer months that they had never committed before. So based on their feedback, we definitely plan to bring this experience to more young people during the summer months.

Chicago Defender: How Can Downtown Youth Become More Exposed to Careers in Tourism?

Dr Vicki Lee: The key is to have these conversations with the people around the table that we are lacking Something in our organization; something is missing in our organization and then we ask ourselves where can we go to find it. What are we missing, who have what are we lacking and how can we engage with them?

Chicago Defender: What did you want participants to take away from this experience?

Dr Vicki Lee: We hope this experience had a positive impact on their personal and professional development. By exposing them to alternative lives and livelihoods, we hope it has enabled them to envision this as a potential avenue for themselves that they might not have imagined possible. We also wanted them to experience what it would be like outside of the city center and to disconnect just to be with themselves.

Keith Sproule: We really wanted everyone on the trip to feel proud that they accepted, and they all did. They all got on a mountain bike, they got on rafts and went through white water, they all rode on horses. Everything we threw at them in those two weeks, they did. We wanted them to turn that experience into a metaphor for life and learn to be the best of themselves and move on.

Experience is the best teacher for life and last summer six very lucky young people had the opportunity of their lives to receive an education that will provide them with a new perspective on the many things life has to offer.

Liz Lampkin is a writer on lifestyle, love and relationships. Follow her on social media @Liz_Lampkin

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