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Near West Side CDC comes to LIFT-Evanston

Wednesday, March 31 2010

Kate Ninno and Le'Vern Russell, both case managers at Near West Side Community Development Corporation in Chicago, visited LIFT-Evanston's February Ongoing Training to speak about their experiences in fighting inequality in the Chicago region.

Kate and Le'Vern described their services at the Chicago nonprofit, which include employment training and referral services for public housing residents on a contract with the Chicago Housing Authority, and programs for local youth.

After an overview of their work in the community, the two fielded questions from LIFT volunteers on a variety of issues. Le'Vern emphasized the importance of making personal relationships with potential employers of clients, adding that the employment "boot camp" run at Near West Side boosts their clients' marketability. Kate spoke about the challenges of making sure clients are compliant with their leases. One volunteer asked whether LIFT-Evanston can refer clients to their service, to which Le'Vern responded that he would help anyone find a job. Finally, Kate spoke about the internship and job opportunities available at Near West Side, and made it clear that dedicated LIFT volunteers were especially welcome.

LIFT-Evanston volunteer Paul Sohn reflected on his experience working with both LIFT-Evanston and Near West Side CDC.

I had the privilege to work as an intern at Near West Side CDC last summer, an experience that actually led me to join LIFT. The main project I worked on was Youth Ready Chicago, a program through which the city of Chicago funded summer jobs for over 100 teens from the Near West Side. On a typical day, I might have organized eligibility data (such as birth certificates and pay stubs), updated an online client database, spent time with kids at the Learn and Earn program, or worked on a census analysis of the neighborhood.

Client service is profoundly different in some ways between the two organizations. While LIFT is completely voluntary both for clients and students, many Near West Side clients are mandated to receive services, and case managers are professionals. The latter, being established in its community and having done specialized work for years, has more resources to draw upon to help its clients. The basics of client service are the same, though - genuine understanding, willingness to help, and ability to leverage one's skills toward solutions go a long way.

This news piece was written by Paul Sohn, LIFT-Evanston volunteer.

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