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updated: 2/5/2014 11:48 AM

SIDEBAR: About The Diamond Youth Foundation

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  • Diamond Youth Foundation Board Members James Jackson (left) and Robert Engram proudly display a photo of the 80 students who attended a recent college visit to Northern Illinois University.  The students participate in the Diamond Youth Foundation at their respective high schools.

    Diamond Youth Foundation Board Members James Jackson (left) and Robert Engram proudly display a photo of the 80 students who attended a recent college visit to Northern Illinois University. The students participate in the Diamond Youth Foundation at their respective high schools.

The DuPage Community Foundation

The Foundation has two components: mentoring and academics. The mentoring part of the Diamond Youth Foundation is called the "Guide Right Mentoring Program." While the Program began at Proviso East High School in Maywood, it is currently serving students in Bartlett, Bolingbrook, East Aurora and South Elgin high schools. The program consists of:

• Weekly mentoring meetings, stressing grade improvement, goal setting, decision-making, positive attitudes and good study habits;

• Career workshops with professional and motivational speakers;

• College campus tours with informational visits with academic and financial aid counselors as well as interaction with college students and the social aspects of campus life;

• An annual Chicago Bulls game outing; and

• Support and sponsorship of each school's "Black History Month" programs.

The academic portion of the Diamond Youth Foundation consists of counseling high

school students about the college search process, including campus visits, internships with prospective employers and scholarship opportunities. Many of the students they are working with are first-generation college students who are not familiar with all of the processes involved in choosing a college, applying for scholarships, financial aid and more.

The Diamond Youth Foundation has provided more than $104,000 in scholarships since 1976 to deserving students based on academic performance, leadership skills, financial need and community service. In 2013, $10,000 was allocated to award to students who registered for college. Approximately 80 students participated in the 2013 college tour, a number of which the Foundation is extremely proud.

"Once a high school is aware of our Program, they all want us," explained Robert Engram, president of the Diamond Youth Foundation. "The problem is that many times there isn't enough funding for us to grow the program to another school. That's where we are now."

Citgo is a corporate sponsor of the Diamond Youth Foundation, having recently made a $10,000 donation to it. The company has also hosted plant tours for the students and addressed operations and the professional opportunities available in the industry.

Engram, who is retired, is running the Diamond Youth Foundation as a volunteer. He personally meets with students from every school at least once a week as a mentor. He and his board are all volunteers and are working tirelessly to grow the Foundation.

"A big change has happened since my generation went to college," Engram said. "There was a big emphasis for African-Americans to attend college, but in the last two generations, the push to go to college has not been there. It's kind of hard to fathom that in this day and age many kids are the first in their family to attend college. It's shocking, really."

James Jackson, another volunteer working with Engram, recalled his reasons for volunteering with the Diamond Youth Foundation: "None of us has gotten to the point where we are by ourselves. There is always someone who helps along the way─not only parents and families─but others as well.

"Somebody helped me, and it's my obligation to pass that along," Jackson added. "Many African-Americans could be more positive when given the right opportunity. There are limited choices to be made, and we can either talk about them or do something about them. If I can affect one child's life, it's worth it."

"Kids are aware of college," Jackson said, "but they don't understand the requirements to get into college. They are not familiar and have little guidance. The Diamond Youth Foundation is providing that guidance."

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Engram spends the majority of his free time with young people. A retired electrical engineer, he recalled that he had a science teacher in elementary school who suggested he look at Illinois Institute of Technology.

"He made me believe that I could be something," said Engram. "George Hudson, my science teacher, I will never forget him. He changed my life."

Engram attended a pre-engineering high school and graduated third in his class. He went on to earn both bachelor and master of science degrees in electrical engineering, and he credits it all to Hudson. "He encouraged me and now this is what I do," Engram added.

Engram also noted that while the Guide Right Mentoring Program began primarily to help African-American youth, no one is turned away.

"We are there to provide help to anyone who needs it," he said.

In addition to being strong role models for young people, Engram and his team of devoted volunteers have many ambassadors and believers in the schools in which they have had a presence. In fact, anyone who has been exposed to the Program has tried to introduce it at any school that he or she may have moved on to. But as Engram explained, they just don't have the funding.

One of the Diamond Youth Foundation's ambassadors is Charlie Thurston, a trustee emeritus of The DuPage Community Foundation.

"The diversity of this program is awe-inspiring," said Thurston. "I am delighted that the Diamond Youth Foundation is working toward helping African-Americans prepare for college and providing mentors and role models to these young people."

Anyone interested in learning more about the Diamond Youth Foundation may visit its Web site at or call (630)750-4884.

About The DuPage Community Foundation:

The DuPage Community Foundation seeks to raise the quality of life throughout DuPage County by fostering philanthropy, connecting donors to area needs and building community partnerships. Based on the American virtues of volunteerism and philanthropy, the Foundation fosters a legacy of support for the people of DuPage County by making grants to not-for-profit organizations working in the areas of arts and culture, education, environment, health, and human services. Since its inception, the Foundation has built its endowment to more than $50 million and awarded more than $17 million in grants to not-for-profit agencies serving the residents of DuPage County and beyond.

Established in 1986, The DuPage Community Foundation is a publicly-supported 501(c)(3) organization to which contributions are tax deductible. It was created to benefit the people of DuPage County and receives contributions and bequests into a permanent endowment from individuals, corporations, organizations and foundations wishing to make lasting contributions to the people of DuPage. The earnings on these funds are then used, in accordance with donor wishes, for the Foundation's grantmaking and community leadership activities.

For more information about the Foundation, or to arrange future media opportunities, please contact Joelyn Kott, marketing & communications officer, at (630) 665-5556, extension 19, or