Zakat Foundation of America Empowers South Side Chicago Youth Centers

CYC students using 3D printing pens to turn their designs into tangible realities.

Zakat Foundation of America donors and Chicago Youth Centers coordinators teamed up from January to April to give 322 South Side girls and boys hands-on lessons about weather cycles, astrophysics, photo digitizing, and an array of life and marketing skills.

“Thanks to the generous support of Zakat Foundation of America, Chicago Youth Centers (CYC) offers robust and comprehensive STEAM curricula to youth at four sites,” said Anya Rath, CYC communications coordinator, noting these gifts helped children from the North Lawndale, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, and South Shore communities.

STEAM has its roots in the U.S. government’s STEM strategy to advance educational instruction from preschool to college in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The “A” in the CYC acronym stands for its added training in the Arts.

Girls make up 45 percent of CYC’s young learners, with boys and girls ranging from ages 5 to 18.

“All projects in CYC STEAM programs are guided by our youths’ interests and skills,” Rath said.

The results show. A full 100 percent of CYC youth jumped to the next school grade level. Some 91 percent of teens and 87 percent of children report they “feel confident solving problems.”

Two-thirds (66 percent) of program kids 6 to 13 show a much more positive attitude about STEAM career paths. Another 83 percent improved their math and science school grades, or maintained a 3.0 or higher grade point average, while three quarters have missed less than nine days of school.

Three youth learners in CYC’s Maker Labs – teen boys, Daveon and Simeon, and eighth-grade girl Kynnedy, a CYC TinkerBelles member – have growing YouTube channels. The guys demonstrate video game strategies and T-shirt design technologies. Kynnedy does do-it-yourself projects, including inventing edible makeup, a concept she herself has developed.

“Involvement with the TinkerBelles has taught the girls the power of teamwork,” according to Clarence Hogan, Maker Lab specialist at CYC’s Sydney Epstein Youth Center in North Lawndale, among the most economically depressed communities in the country.

Zakat Foundation contributors also enabled CYC to team up with Chicago’s vaunted Museum of Science and Industry to teach the would-be scientists concepts behind weather, its cycle, and volatile patterns. Instructors based their teaching on the structural engineering CYC youth explored in the 2017 winter quarter.

Zakat Foundation supporters also helped CYC kids meet a broad group of professionals working in STEM fields, helping underwrite its cooperation with Project Exploration, a Chicago nonprofit dedicated to making children STEM-literate. This included collaboration with Lincoln Park Zoo specialists on environmental science, where youth built insect houses and took in photosynthesis in action.

Our Zakat Foundation backers gave CYC, in cooperation with Google tech professionals, the boost needed to allow their young people to build virtual reality maps and get their hands on real VR gadgets.

In addition, Devin Swift-Bailey, Maker Labs specialist for CYC’s South Shore Rebecca Crown Youth Center, created a financial literacy do-and-learn program for his 5- and 6-year-olds. “That means having them understand how pennies, dimes, nickels, and bills work and each one’s value.” Watching teens struggle with their field-trip cash turned the light bulb on for him. “The whole point of explaining financial literacy and teaching them how to count out their money is to make sure they don’t get cheated.”

Students are excited to answer questions on a GEMS school field trip.

“The neighbor is utterly crucial in Islam,” said Amal Ali, director of communications. “So Zakat Foundation givers care a lot for the well-being of their neighbors, especially in underserved communities – and near the top of their concern stands the education available to children.

“When our contributors see a chance to make that difference, they act on it.”

Give to Zakat Foundation’s U.S. Programs here.