Jobs for Youth/Chicago

Jobs for Youth/Chicago, Inc. (JFY) is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that helps 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 serves are from Chicago’s inner city. JFY charges no fees for its services and is supported by individuals, foundations – both private and corporate — and government grants and contracts. By 1992, JFY reported that, annually, it was training and placing 1,000 young people in unsubsidized jobs.


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 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 fundraising and program marketing.

New York City

The birth of JFY can be found 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 couldn’t find jobs, and there was nothing else to do. The accuracy of this account can’t be verified, but it does contain the kernel of truth that gave JFY it’s 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, is 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] , [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 1990’s JFY would have moved twice, each time outgrowing its space, next to 50 E. Washington St., and, again in mid-2007, 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 volunteer since the early 90s, who later joined the board, and subsequently was elected president; Brien O’Brien, who also began as a volunteer, then board member and president, and Darlene Chaleff, who has been on JFY’s board since 1980, and is currently president.

There have been many other capable volunteers adding their skills and resources as well. Among them, Jack Culberg became a major benefactor underwriting the establishment of a computer learning center, and Marty Hausman, founder 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.

Program Development

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 a fourth unit was added, Interact, the Volunteer Services department.

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 elsewhre that had volunteer components. None could be found, and JFY’s became the first and, as far as is known, still the only program of its kind with a substantial volunteer component, whose members participate in every aspect of training, counseling, and job placement. The volunteer component is 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 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.

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 to use their own words to describe what they needed, rather than through the interpretive vocabulary of the helping professions.

This effort resonated with the perspectives shared in Alex Kotlowitz’s "There Are No Children Here", Nicholas Lemann’s "The Promised Land" -- both of them best sellers -- and 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.

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. [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.]

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

Since its inception, JFY/Chicago has 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 making an emergency appeal to Bill Kirby of 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 a 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 it’s Learning Center, through a competitive grant from the U.S. Education Department’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; Ray Meyers, the legendary basketball coach at De Paul University; Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.; and Mayor Richard M. Daley, who often attends, to name a few. And music is 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 reports more than 21,000 job placements with several hundred area businesses and, through The Learning Center, as of late 2007, helping more than 900 young people to 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, is the current executive director.


External links

* [ Official site]

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