Carol Stream program helps students succeed after high school

Xavier Da'Shawn Brown, known by his friends as Shawn, dreams of going to college and becoming a police officer.

But the Glenbard East High School student, 17, isn't padding his resume with an endless list of club memberships and extracurricular activities. Instead, he's doing something rather different to take his dream in his hands and make it happen.

And for him, that includes participating in SALT, or Student Achievement Leadership Team, a program of the Outreach Community Center in Carol Stream that provides high school students with academic skills and work training to help them succeed after high school. An arm of Outreach Community Ministries, the center offers after-school and summer programs for students, financial counseling and mentoring for adults and social connections for seniors.

“They get you ready for everything you need to learn and do for a better career,” Shawn said.

For the first year or so, students are placed at jobs within the center to give them a foundation of skills. Juniors and seniors are then paired with organizations in the community once those work skills have been honed.

During the school year, students focus heavily on academics, while summer is when the program is more work-intensive and allows students to apply the things they learned during the school year at jobs. For many, this is their first work experience.

“The whole purpose of the program is to help students in the neighborhood stay on track in school so that they graduate from high school, but then there's another component to it,” said Donald Robinson, executive director at the center. “We want to help prepare them for work life after their high school experience.”

Students receive job coaching, learning what it takes to be successful in the workplace, from how to dress and present themselves to colleagues and employers to how to be assertive, manage conflict and communicate well.

Thirty-three students are currently enrolled in the program, and most of them come from single-family, working-class homes where they might be the first with the chance to obtain a college degree.

“For our students, the thought of going to college, it's inspiring,” Robinson said. “It's motivational for them.”

Not only do students receive valuable training that helps them get there, but they can also receive scholarships that help them pay for it. All students in the program are eligible for scholarships of up to $3,000 per year of college.

“The whole objective is to help students like Shawn chart a path for their future,” Robinson said.

Students also receive paychecks for their work, which are funded by a workNet DuPage grant that allows the Outreach Community Center to pay students. Students must meet income guidelines or have educational support needs to be eligible.

“Just being able to go to work and perform and then receive a benefit from your efforts is rewarding,” Robinson said.

Shawn has been with the program for three years and is in his second year working with Belmont Village, an assisted-living facility in Carol Stream. There, he does maintenance work, which includes shampooing carpets, watering plants and painting, among other activities.

But it's not simply about shampooing a carpet — he enters residents' homes, works around their belongings and interacts with and engages the residents. There's an element of trust, says Jeanne Hansen, senior executive director at Belmont Village.

“It is a huge responsibility to allow initially a stranger to come into our world and allow them to help us help our seniors,” Hansen said. “Through this program and through the course of the two years that Shawn has been here, he has earned the right and our trust to help our seniors.”

The Shawn described by Hansen is very different from the high school freshman who wouldn't show up to work sometimes because he overslept.

“I changed a lot. I started out as a kid who didn't want to do much and was lazy,” Shawn said. “When I joined Outreach, I became more outgoing and wanted to do more to help myself and others around me. If I didn't join, I don't think I would've tried to go to college.”

Robinson said it's not uncommon for former students to tell him they wouldn't have been able to go on to college and become the first in their families to graduate without the program.

They also tell him that when they get to where they want to be in life, they want to come back and help the center.

And when he asks them why, they tell him it's because that's where their heart is.

  Xavier Da’Shawn Brown replaces the screens in a resident’s room after cleaning them at Belmont Village in Carol Stream. “I think it’ll help because it shows that I have a lot of skills and I could pertain to multiple jobs,” Brown said of his work. Scott Sanders/
  Xavier Da’Shawn Brown, left, receives job training and coaching with the SALT program to help him go on to college and succeed after high school. Here, he is assembling a carpet cleaner with Belmont Village’s assistant building engineer Bob Shindle. Scott Sanders/
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