The centerpiece of Kidz Express is our free After School Program, which operates for 38 weeks during the school year and 8 weeks during the summer.
During their after-school time, children need time to play, explore, create, learn new skills, and relax. Kidz Express after school program is designed to positively impact children’s growth, development, and learning throughout the preadolescent and adolescent school years. Our balanced program offers children free time as well as a wide variety of structured activities that are fun and interactive and that help them develop and enhance leadership and social skills, build self-esteem, learn conflict resolution abilities, enhance academic skills, and explore interests and hobbies. Areas of programming and focus include: health, fitness and nutrition; youth leadership development; homework and tutoring; computer skill development, music and dance clubs, yoga instruction, anger management and emotional counseling, child care; jobs training and employment; juvenile justice; academic and career planning; college and financial aid application assistance; parents’ groups and affordable housing.
Our staff, volunteers and mentors strive to build strong meaningful relationships with our kids to become integrated into their lives as they grow and develop. We believe it is critical to be involved in every aspect of their lives including: academics and school, the street, home and family, Several studies have shown the critical importance of positive adult/mentor relationships for positive youth development. Our strong relationship with our Kidz is reflected in the more than 50 participants who have been in our programs for more than five years. And many of our mentors have been part of our program for more than 10 years. This continuity is instrumental to the positive impacts Kidz Express has on children participating in our programs.
A major objective of our program is the development of strong relationships between our participants and our mentors. Because many of our mentors have grown up in our program and in the neighborhood, mentors serve as role models for our younger participants, demonstrating the challenges and difficulties of their urban environment can be overcome. Participants relate better to our mentors than “outsiders” who have not faced the same challenges. We believe the ability of our mentors to bond with our participants is one of the primary strengths of our program. Another significant impact of the program is the increase in the economic opportunity for our youth and their families. In a severely economically depressed community, our mentors’ paychecks make significant contributions to the economic well-being of their families.
Cross-Age Peer Mentoring
Our jobs training program is an asset based model which provides employment for youth from our neighborhood between the ages of 14 and 24. Cross-age peer mentors serve as strong role models for younger participants, demonstrating that challenges and difficulties of their urban environment can be overcome. We hire mentors who grew up in the same neighborhood as our participants and successfully overcome many of the same issues and challenges our participants face. It also creates both a viable career ladder in the youth development industry as well as an entry point for further mainstream workforce exploration that can lead youth out of poverty. Our program is designed to introduce them to the challenges and benefits of the work environment as well as a continued emphasis on academic achievement.
We currently hire over 35 youth ranging in age from 14 – 24 to run our programs throughout the year. Over the next three years we will increase that number to 75 – 80 staff members. Mentors responsibilities include: homework oversight and tutoring; program development and implementation; supervision of organized activities and free time; leading special interest clubs and group leadership and maintenance of our facilities. Our mentors are positive role models because they have made good choices under the same circumstances the children face every day. Our program also produces the additional benefits of reducing negative behaviors among the employed youth as well as utilizing their talents and expertise, whether it be in the form of coaching an intra-center basketball team, leading children in art projects, teaching dance, tutoring, or in focusing on the more administrative aspects of the program such as taking attendance, tracking metrics, monitoring transitions, and coordinating meal service.
Kidz Express hires youth mentors in a tiered mentoring framework where 1) the “management” staff mentor the children and all the mentors; 2) “senior mentors” guide the “junior” mentors; and 3) senior and junior mentors serve as role models to the younger children in the program. A major objective of our program is the development of strong relationships between our participants and our mentors. Because many of our mentors have grown up in our program and in the neighborhood, mentors serve as role models for our younger participants, demonstrating the challenges and difficulties of their urban environment can be overcome. Participants relate better to our mentors than “outsiders” who have not faced the same challenges. We believe the ability of our mentors to bond with our participants is one of the primary strengths of our program.
Kidz Express offers a summer program for children ages 5 through 14 that allows us to continue to provide our integrated service programs during the summer. Our summer program helps us maintain a presence in our participants' life year round and keeps children active in our programming for twenty hours a week for eight weeks during the Chicago Public Schools summer break. Additionally, our program supports low income families by providing a secure and positive place for their children during traditional work hours.
Additionally, we partner with Timshel Construction to provide summer employment for over 40 teenagers associated with Kidz Express.