Options for Youth (OFY) is a nonprofit organization whose staff have been developing programs for underserved adolescents in Chicago for 25 years.
OFY’s programs are designed to change the life trajectories of underserved youth. By focusing on two of the most vulnerable populations – teen mothers and at-risk boys growing up in distressed neighborhoods – we are helping to break the cycle of poverty and empowering our youth to reach their full potential. Our programs provide intense training and one-on-one support to adolescent program participants, who then work in their own communities providing information and serving as role models.
OFY has developed three different programs, all of which grew directly out of empirical research and continual feedback from adolescent program participants. The Subsequent Pregnancy Program (SPP) is a community-based program designed to help teen mothers graduate from high school, delay a second pregnancy, and become self-sufficient. SPP was developed in response to study of adolescent welfare mothers, carried out at the University of Chicago, which suggested that a rapid second birth significantly increased the likelihood of school drop-out and longer term welfare dependency (Mosena, 1986). At that time, one-third of all babies born to teen mothers in the state of Illinois each were not first births (IDPH, 1989). SPP provides an integrated model of adolescent service delivery with two primary interventions: a personal, ongoing relationship with a Home Visitor, and intense training through participation in an Advisory Group.
Ten years of working directly with first-time adolescent mothers to delay a second pregnancy made it obvious that we needed to focus on the other side of the equation — young men. Begun in 2000, the Peer Advocates for Health Program (PAH) and more recently, What’s Up with Manhood? were designed to increase health knowledge, improve lifestyle choices, decrease violence against partners & peers, and increase high school graduation rates among adolescent male participants living in underserved neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago. We have trained hundreds of young men, age 14 to 19, from 33 high schools through our male programs.
Through a partnership with Chicago Public Schools, Options for Youth is currently adapting its community-based program model to ensure high school graduation of adolescent parents in high school and school-readiness of their young children. With support from the Office of Early Childhood Education’s, Community Partnership Programs, we have expanded the Subsequent Pregnancy Program model by enhancing parenting skills and early childhood education provided to young parents attending three local high schools. In addition to weekly group training, each of the 100 young parents and their children participating in the Options Program receive regular home visits which provide an opportunity for continued parental training, developmental screening, and enriched parent-child activities.
Twenty-five years of community-based program experience serving adolescents strongly supports our belief that BOTH intense training AND on-going, individual support are necessary for behavior and lifestyle changes among adolescent populations. All our program activities are focused on intensely training a small number of young people and utilizing this dedicated group of trained adolescents to provide information to their peers and broader communities.
Options for Youth is pleased to thank the many partners and funders who have collaborated with us to address the needs of underserved youth in the greater Chicago area. We continually look for new partners to serve our adolescent participants and we hope to work with each of you to increase the options for these young people and their communities.
Patricia W. Mosena, Ph.D.