Brittiney Jones emancipated from her parents at 16 years old. “At the time, I struggled with financial literacy, confidence, speaking in public, and finding a mentor or role model to help guide me,” says Jones. However, my mom always stressed the importance of higher education, so I knew college was the best route. In college, I searched for a similar community of people but I noticed there weren’t many people who were like me. I also learned about 10% of former foster care youth will attend college, and only about 3% graduate from higher education institutions—I was one of them.”
With this in mind, Jones later moved to Chicago and partnered with co-founder Alayna Washington to establish Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative.(Image: Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative)
CYOI has not only received recognition from the community and governmental leaders in the Chicago area, but the Obama administration contacted them to discuss academic needs, and best practices to assist the growing underresourced foster care population.
Black Enterprise caught up with Jones to learn more about CYOI’s mission to make sure every CYOI student graduates from high school and seeks higher education or a career-related field.
(Image: Chicago Youth Opportunities Initiative Board)
How are you working toward making changes happen within the social service arena in Chicago??
Within the city of Chicago, and nationwide, there are correlations between abandoned youth, mental illness, drug abuse, homelessness, and gang affiliation. We believe by creating safe spaces for youth that provide guidance and promote self-love you can address the issue of abandonment. Our youth development program is based on a holistic approach that includes:
- A mentoring program for our students, as well as a series of events, focused on the knowledge, skills, and resources to achieve their personal and academic goals.
- A career expo which gives youth in our program an opportunity to network with career professionals in the Chicago community. Our students also get to share their stories, goals, dreams, etc. and receive feedback, as well as learning and job shadowing opportunities from our presenters.
What do you think schools, parents, and state agencies can do to improve the lives of foster youth living in Chicago?
We recommend that educational and social service leaders value the social-emotional growth (i.e., confidence-building, identity, self-esteem, etc.) of students to the same extent that academic growth is valued. Without a strong foundation and sense of self, it is hard to achieve anything.