The development of communication and leadership skills is one of the primary benefits of participation in a Storycatchers program.  This is particularly true of the Changing Voices post-release employment program, where youth focus on honing life skills as well as job-readiness.  Building on the storytelling and teamwork they learned with Storycatchers inside the Illinois Youth Centers, staff train youth to be leaders and mentors to their peers in the community.

“Youth learn to conceive of themselves as agents of change on a personal level as well as a social level,” says Artistic Director Meade Palidofsky. “Now in its third year, we are proud that several Changing Voices veterans have remained with the program and have taken on more responsibility this season.  Our vision for this program is that the eventual leaders of a citywide and statewide program will emerge from within our groups.”

Greg Holmes has been with the employment program since it began in 2014; he is now a Teaching Artist and Program-Manager-in-Training, working with Changing Voices and with Firewriters at IYC-Chicago. Tyteanna Williams and Lovon Jordon have also both been with Storycatchers since 2014; they currently work as Peer Leaders for Changing Voices.

“I didn’t know anything about theater when I started with this program; it was just a job,” Holmes remarked. “But when we started performing for all those other kids, I began to understand how we can have an influence on people. I saw that our stories have real power and that we can make a difference. I never expected to feel like this. Now I really enjoy this work and want to do more of it.”

“Greg is a great example of how Storycatchers can grow our own next generation of program leaders,” noted Artistic Director, Meade Palidofsky. “He’s smart, capable and eager to learn. He’s been where our young participants are now.”

Holmes and Jordon have been working on the script for the 2016 tour show, Stuck, since last November. The cast of characters includes a former Chicago Police officer, who is now the high school baseball coach; Remy and James, sister and brother high school students; their mother and her new boyfriend; and James’ boyhood best friend, Malik.  Baseball becomes a metaphor for the field of life and the challenge of knowing day-to-day how we choose to win or lose.

Changing Voices youth developed this new script with the assistance of students at several schools, including the school at Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a statewide leader in therapeutic treatment for children and their families. The students’ responses to scenes in the play and ability to replay scenes immediately helped CV youth add details and plot consistency.  The Ensemble is now putting the final touches on the play and developing the interactive discussion that follows.