Jobs for Youth-Chicago

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Jobs for Youth/Chicago, Inc. (JFY) was a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that helped young men and women from low income homes between the ages of 17 and 24 to prepare for, find, and keep jobs. Most of the youth JFY served were from Chicago’s inner city. JFY charged no fees for its services and was supported by individuals, foundations – both private and corporate — and federal government grants and contracts. By 1992 JFY was training and placing 1,000 young people in unsubsidized jobs annually, performance far exceeding that of any other organization of its kind anywhere.


JFY began as a very small agency, with 12 employees when it opened its doors in 1979. In its first year, JFY only served high school dropouts, offering a single half-day of training before sending enrollees on job interviews. JFY made less than 100 job placements during its first twelve months of operation, and most of these were with fast food chains and small retail stores.

By the early 1990s JFY had grown substantially, with a Board of Directors mostly from the business community, a budget of about $1 million by 1994, and was making 1,500 job placements per year with more than 400 local businesses. The agency was recognized for its work by a number of civic and government organizations, ranging from the United Way to the White House. By the early 1990s, hiring employers included banks and other financial services firms, accounting firms, various corporate headquarters, major department stores, hospitals, and airline and airport service businesses.

By this time, JFY had gained financial support from government, businesses, private foundations, as well as many individuals. JFY also had established a volunteer program, with a cadre of more than 200 professionals helping in all aspects of JFY's operations, from teaching the young clients on through fund-raising and program marketing.

New York City[edit]

The birth of JFY was in New York City in the early 1970s. The story is told that a number of prominent residents came together out of concern for neighborhood vandalism, specifically over an incident where several young men were caught pelting a passing auto with stones. When apprehended and queried, the youths complained that they could not find jobs, and there was nothing else to do. The accuracy of this account cannot be verified, but it contains the kernel of truth that gave JFY its reason for being: countless young people in poor neighborhoods were growing to adulthood with few prospects.

Based on this alleged incident, a number of concerned New Yorkers came together to start Jobs for Youth/New York, the first JFY, to help high school dropouts from low-income families land entry-level jobs. Fred Jungmann, a banker who grew up in Chicago, was a founding Board member of that first JFY. He was devoted to its mission, so much so that he left his banking career to work full-time on behalf of the new JFY. For a time, he headed JFY/New York, then established a second JFY in Boston in 1978 and, finally, JFY/Chicago in 1979.


JFY/Chicago, was an independent Illinois nonprofit corporation. G. Gale Robinson, Sr., a local attorney and long-time friend of the Jungmann family, donated his services to incorporate JFY, with the Chicago Boys Club (now the Boys and Girls Club) acting as its fiscal agent. In 1979, with start-up money from the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Ford Foundation, Edna McConnell Clark, and Charles Stewart Mott Foundations, JFY began its first year of operation at 623 S. Wabash Street, south of Chicago's Loop.

This first year JFY/Chicago came near closure, with funding and programming problems. Dr. Jack Connelly was hired as executive director in May, 1980. One of his first acts was to move JFY from its out-of-the-way office on South Wabash Avenue to 28 E. Jackson Street. And, by the early 1990s, under Connelly's leadership, JFY would have moved twice, each time outgrowing its space, next to 50 E. Washington St. In mid-2007, JFY relocated again, to 17 N. State Street, in the heart of Chicago's Loop.

As JFY began to grow, there were several board members who emerged as leaders, each serving as Board president. They include: G. Gale Robertson, Jr., an attorney who served as President of JFY for 13 years, and whose father had incorporated JFY; David Deurkop, a broker with the Chicago Board of Trade, and a volunteer since the early 90s, who later joined the JFY Board, and subsequently was elected President; Brien O'Brien, CEO of Advisory Research, who also began as a volunteer, then Board Member and President, and Darlene Chaleff, who had been on JFY's board since 1980, was Chairman from 2002 to late 2010, followed by Paul Erbach, a director of Komatsu America.

There have been many other capable volunteers adding their skills and resources as well. Among them, Jack Culberg, then Chairman of Rival Appliances, became a major benefactor underwriting the establishment of a computer learning center, and Marty Hausman, then president and CEO of Power Parts, contributed time, money, and jobs at his company to JFY graduates. Without such volunteer participation, JFY/Chicago would likely have failed, as JFY/New York eventually did. Also, Don Crockford, then head of Kraft's Information Technology and HR units, led JFY's restructuring of the program's operations in the early-90s, resulting in tripling the organization's performance, with no increase in costs.

Program development[edit]

During the time JFY was at the Jackson Street location, the program evolved to include three departments: Counseling, Pre-employment and Job placement, and the Learning Center. When JFY relocated to 5 S. Wabash Dr. Connelly added a fourth unit, Interact, the Volunteer Services department. This addition transformed the organization. His thinking behind Interact was to establish a structure where young people whom JFY served could connect directly with business professionals in a supportive environment and establish nurturing relationships.

Prior to setting up the volunteer unit, a national search was conducted on JFY's behalf with the help of Carolyn Bergan, former head of the Continental Bank Foundation, to locate other similar job programs elsewhere that had volunteer components. None could be found, and JFY's became the first and, as far as is known, the only program of its kind with a substantial volunteer component, drawn largely from the business community, whose members participate in every aspect of training, counseling, and job placement. The volunteer component was called "Interact."

Through contacts made possible by Interact volunteers, JFY began to offer customized training and tailored post-employment support services to several major area employers, including Bank One (now Chase) and Kraft, Inc. The name, “Interact,” is telling in that the volunteers' interactions with the JFY program kept it dynamic and responsive to an ever-changing job market. Further, JFY was able to benefit from a broad range of extraordinary skills the volunteers brought to the program. For example, senior IT staff from Kraft's corporate headquarters designed a Client Tracking System (CTS) that allowed JFY to carefully follow young workers' progress over several years and, as the database grew, to anticipate and head-off work-related problems before they became serious, as well as providing feedback on areas where the training or support services needed strengthening or revision. The volunteer programmers also developed software that generated letters to the Alderman whenever a youth residing in his or her ward found a job with the help of JFY. This helped greatly in building and strengthening important relationships with local government. As to program design, volunteers who worked in logistics in several industries applied their skills to help JFY to continually improve service delivery. One program addition, cued by the feedback from the CTS, was to set up a "client closet," whereby donations of business-appropriate apparel are solicited, as most enrollees come to JFY with very limited wardrobes and, most often, nothing appropriate for an interview or a white collar work environment.

In addition to the ongoing feedback on the needs of employers, clients with children were asking JFY's counselors for help with daycare services, so they could be free to work. In this, JFY established relations with daycare providers, helping young clients to sort out the various funding mechanisms to support these services. As staff became more involved in trying to assist with a range of client needs, rather than continuing to react piecemeal as issues arose, JFY commissioned two female scholars to take life histories of a representative cross section of single mothers enrolled in the program. This was done for several reasons: to document the realities they faced; to better understand and plan for helping with their needs; and to offer a forum where their own words describe their reality and what they needed, rather than through the interpretive vocabulary of the helping professions.

This effort resonated with the perspectives shared in Alex Kotlowitz' There Are No Children Here, Nicholas Lemann's 'The Promised Land—both of them best sellers—and MacArthur Genius awardee William Julius Wilson's groundbreaking, The Truly Disadvantaged. Both Kotlowitz and Wilson have referred young people to JFY, and Connelly assisted Lemann in his research efforts, which is acknowledged In his book, "The Promised Land." Lemann recently stepped down as Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, and he is a contributing writer to The New Yorker.

While all but a very few of the custodial parents enrolling in the program were single mothers, staff was finding that a number of these mothers were in committed relationships, but did not know how to sustain and nurture these relationships without being threatened with the loss of vital public assistance.

With the support of a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor under Robert Reich, JFY established the “Intact Families Initiative.” This was an experimental program – the first of its kind anywhere – that sought to help couples with children who were in committed relationships to establish and maintain households together, to receive counseling and other supportive services that recognized and supported them as family units. Heretofore, virtually all public policy initiatives to help impoverished single mothers presumed that none were in meaningful relationships with partners or, if a partner was identified, he was allowed no role in the household, except to contribute to its support. This became a Catch 22, as any support he could provide would impact the mother's benefits, while he was offered no assistance in securing training and job services so that he could earn enough money so public assistance was no longer needed. That is, public policy was structured to discourage two-parent families in the population JFY serves.

The greatest difficulty for JFY was not in identifying such families, but in trying to work around federal and state regulations which clients felt would threaten their continued eligibility for the services they were receiving. These barriers made it costly to provide the intended services, but the Intact Families Initiative put this problem under a bright light which was later reflected in the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act of 1996 which – for the first time ever – emphasized family formation and the role of policy in promoting and supporting healthy marriages. However, while JFY worked with married couples, cohabiting couples were also included in the demonstration. The data JFY gathered on these unmarried couples had never before been compiled with, unfortunately, very little other work in this area done since, although such living arrangements are fairly common.[1]

In addition to gathering data to better understand and serve JFY's clients, basic supports were added, such as the “Client Closet,” an ongoing program of donated business attire for clients in need of these kinds of wardrobe items.

Development and recognition[edit]

Since its inception, JFY/Chicago relied on a mix of public and private support to fund its activities. As noted earlier, JFY was established with a mix of federal government and private foundation support. However, this initial support was limited, and other funding streams needed to be quickly developed to sustain the fledgling organization beyond the start up period.

By late 1980, JFY was near exhausting its start-up funding, and had secured very little local support—not enough to continue much beyond the end of the year.

In late 1980, after JFY made an emergency appeal to the late Bill Kirby, who was instrumental in establishing the then-newly formed John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, JFY received a major gift from the Foundation which stabilized its operations and supported JFY's efforts to quickly develop a local support base for the program. It is notable that JFY was sought out by the Wallace Foundation to receive the largest single private gift in its history -- $650,000—to help strengthen and sustain what they identified as an outstanding model program.

Ongoing government funding for JFY came largely through the federal Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, which cited JFY in the Preamble of the enabling legislation as a model program and, later, JFY received funding under the successor Workforce Investment Act. JFY received assistance for its Learning Center, through a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, as well as local Chicago Board of Education support as a charter school site.

In 1981, JFY had a Recognition Breakfast to honor some of the young people in the program, and this Breakfast grew into the annual JFY Recognition Luncheons – which traditionally feature speakers from all walks of life, such as Gale Sayers, the Chicago Bears running back who went on to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; TV and film performer,Mr. T; comedian Aaron Freeman; the late Ray Meyers, the legendary basketball coach at De Paul University; and Mayor Richard M. Daley, who often attended, to name a few. And music was always a part of the events – with MacArthur “genius” Award winner and JFY graduate, ragtime pianist Reginald Robinson, entertaining the guests on a couple of occasions.

These events provide an opportunity to recognize successful clients and to showcase the work of JFY for the public, enhancing efforts to obtain support from individuals, corporations and local and national foundations. Also, at times JFY hosted open houses, with early affairs featuring a JFY dance troupe, and another a jazz band composed of JFY clients.


Since its inception, JFY/Chicago made more than 28,000 job placements with several hundred area businesses and helped more than 1,000 young people gain their high school equivalency diplomas.

Connelly retired in 2000, after 20 years of service, and was replaced by staff member Therese McMahon, who later joined the state government as head of the Workforce Development Bureau. Robert Barnett, former head of JFY's Learning Center, became the next executive director, and was followed by Andrew Abrahams, then a temporary director who wound down the organization in early 2013. The closure was caused largely by a confluence of management and governance issues which could not be successfully resolved.


  1. ^ Public Assistance Use Among Two-Parent Families: An Analysis of TANF and Food Stamp Program Eligibility and Participation; by Anu Rangarajan, Laura Castner, and Melissa A. Clark; Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 2005.

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