“You’re a product of your environment? That’s an excuse. What are you going to do about it? You going to just stay there?”


The Changing Voices rehearsal room is dark. The only light is from a projector illuminating a black and white powerpoint presentation. It shows the definition of ‘assertive communication,’ or the ability to stand up for your own point of view while still respecting others. The teacher at the front of the room is taking two Storycatchers young men through a role-play exercise where they act out assertive statements during a pretend conflict with a coworker.

The first youth starts off the role-play with the half-sentence prompt he’s been asked to read: “When you applied for the position I told you I wanted, it made me feel…,” he pauses, thinking, and then, “like you be tweaking.” He stops, he rewinds. He tries again and gets further along in the conversation, but then he snaps and everyone watching busts out laughing.

Charlene, a CV youth, speaks up, “We’re used to attacking. It’s not natural to speak like this from the communities we come from. We’re used to aggression and attacking each other.”

The teacher takes a deep breath. “We need to have the soft skills to interact harmoniously with our future coworkers. You are now charged with this knowledge. How are you going to use it?”

This teacher is from Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, an organization Storycatchers has had the pleasure of partnering with for an 8-week career exploration and mentorship program. Changing Voices youth have been attending weekly workshops like this one focused on essential skills, including career selection, time management, assertive communication, and budgeting.

In addition to exercising new abilities, youth have had the opportunity to create individualized career plans through one-on-one check-ins with Skills staff. These check-ins have helped our youth understand what they need to do to reach their goals, develop a pathway to get there, and hold themselves accountable. Many youth have been presented with opportunities to pursue both higher education and employment-specific fields simultaneously, including a chance to pursue a nursing certificate while working at Rush Medical Center! The opportunities are ample, and we are excited to see our youth take on new challenges where they’ll continue to grow.

This 8-week curriculum with Skills For Chicagoland’s Future will be offered multiple times in a given year so that new youth coming into our program can benefit from it.

As a supported employment program, Changing Voices offers Storycatchers youth more than a paycheck. Youth receive wrap-around services, which means that in addition to artistic skills, they have case managers who work with our youth to secure the resources they need when it comes to housing, behavior management, and next-step employment so they have the futures they deserve.