Chicago Organization Assists Youth Through 'Find Your Future' Program

by Nathaniel Stewart / Feb 26, 2020

Genuine opportunities for professional development can be difficult to find for young adults. Applying to different jobs, internships, and programs that promise to help you gain skills and experience for the workplace can become stressful. Then there is the task of weighing your options and hoping you select the right program. The most bitter fact of all is that if you fall into foster youth, at-risk (also known as "opportunity youth"), or low-income populations, these opportunities can seem virtually impossible.

The nonprofit Chicago organization Kaleidoscope addresses these struggles through its Find Your Future program.

The mission of Kaleidoscope 4 Kids is to empower children, youth, and families impacted by abuse and neglect by building resourcefulness, resiliency, and supportive relationships through innovative, individualized case-management and clinical services. The Find Your Future Program provides current and former foster youth who are attending college with a paid 10-week summer internship that offers vocational training.

Sadly, Find Your Future has seen a dramatic decline in numbers over the years, according to Patricia Fiorito, the program manager from 2011 to 2019. Here’s what she said in a phone interview:

“There are many good caseworkers, but unfortunately they are extremely busy and they have really high caseloads, which prevents them from knowing all of the resources that are available to their youth; so that’s one component. The young people, it’s fifty-fifty if you will, from a very young start the longer that they were in the system or within foster care, and then transitioning to the other programs as they aged, lost confidence within themselves and sometimes were not encouraged that they could be better, that they will be successful, so I think that is a component. Then there’s, you know, not knowing what the program is and Kaleidoscope not having enough manpower to support a tactful, blitz, guerilla-marketing strategy to make it more known. This year has the lowest, the lowest, in nine-years of a turnout of applications. To the point where the deadline for the program is typically the second or third week of December, right after winter exams, and they had to extend it until January because they didn’t have even enough applications to run a program.”

Unfortunately, programs like Find Your Future don’t seem to reach the populations that need the services the most. When it comes to communication, information dissemination is described as the spreading of information and knowledge for public consumption. This then provides individuals with a choice to act on said knowledge in a way that best suits them and their families. For Fiorito, Find Your Future meant everything:  

“What that program meant to me, it’s hard to answer that question because I didn’t know what it was going to mean to me, when I first started it … it meant the world to me; it meant the world because I knew that (this) program was providing young people an opportunity, financial resources, resources to employers and business references and professional references”

What good is having resources if we don’t properly inform and educate those who need them? Foster youth, individuals from low-income communities, and people of color are at enough risk in this country each day without the added burden of denying them the knowledge they need to improve their situation. We must find a better way to communicate the resources we have for others so that their varied tasks and goals can be realized. In short, we must strive for the influence that Find Your Future has had on so many children. Here are final thoughts from Fiorito on her experience at Find Your Future:

“I know the impact; it’s so fun! I had a student last week who messaged me, asking me for a tax document from 2017 because she was just getting ready to buy a house. She’s a single mother, now going to grad school, and now getting ready to buy her first house and although I know she’s a very strong individual, she might not have had the confidence to do all of those steps, much less at the same time, if Find Your Future didn’t exist and other programs like You’re your Future. I see the graduations on Facebook. I’m still connected with many students from the program that are now becoming young adults, and seeing them graduate with their master’s degree, and getting married and having successful lives; that’s how it’s impacting me because just to know that I got to walk along with student while they were starting to build their lives—it makes me feel good about the work!”

The above photo, courtesy of Kaleidoscope, shows the end results of a team-building activity in which Kaleidoscope youth constructed a toy for children out of random office supplies and then marketed it to "parents."