Y.O.U. director tends ‘community treasure’
As executive director of the Evanston Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella) Seth Green, top, oversees programs that help more than 850 at-risk youth each year. | Provided
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:01AM
EVANSTON — When East Coast native Seth Green moved to Evanston about a year ago to undertake a new position as executive director of the Evanston Y.O.U. (Youth Organizations Umbrella), he dove right in providing oversight to the largest youth development agency in the North Shore area.
If anyone was right for a job overseeing programs that help more than 850 at-risk youth each year, it was Green.
The Princeton University Graduate and Yale Law School alum has spent most of his adult life engaged in strategic social change efforts that aim to provide social and economic opportunities to low-income community members of all ages.
Green took more than a decade of experience working with east coast-based non-profits with him to Evanston, when he moved here with his wife Caitlin Fitz – an assistant professor of history at Northwestern University – in 2011.
Together the couple (who met in college while working on an advocacy campaign for fair wages) has made the North Shore their new home.
Outside of Y.O.U., Green is involved in the community as a member of the Mayor’s Youth Task Force and is a graduate of Leadership Evanston.
Q: When did you first get involved in working with social change organizations?
A: It all started my freshman year at Princeton when I became involved in activist efforts to raise the minimum wage of low-income staff members working on campus. Many of the workers did not have benefits, and I wanted to work to ensure that they could have access to a better life for their families. I’ve been blessed in life with lots of wonderful opportunities and I wanted others to have that as well.
Q: How has your interest in community service organizations developed over the years?
A: I led a social venture called the Job Opportunity Investment Network, which helps at-risk adults move into careers paying family-sustaining wages, and I also founded Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), an organization that empowers youth to tackle pressing social challenges through community-based action. Both were fabulous experiences where I learned how to run a non-profit by the seat of my pants. AID was very small at first, but as we grew it became a constant learning experience where I was constantly learning by doing. After five years, I decided I needed to switch to a new setting and tackle bigger goals.
Q: What were your new goals?
A: I joined a strategy-consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. in 2007 where I worked with large-scale non-profits like United Way and the Gates Foundation. My work as a consultant gave me insight into a host of non-profits, and I became a part of discussions at some of the biggest non-profit organizations in the country.
Q: How has your past experience given you leverage as a leader at Evanston Y.O.U.?
A: What I learned through all my past experience is that I love community-based work. That work has led to my belief in youth as the key investment for a socially and economically mobile country. It’s a huge honor to lead the Y.O.U. It’s really about the community working together to make the community a better place for all our kids.
Q: What are some of the ongoing issues in the community you’ve had to address as executive director of Y.O.U.?
A: Many people don’t realize that young students spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of the classroom. What those kids choose to do in their free time is a big indicator of where their lives will lead. We provide after-school and summer learning programs that are filled with exciting and engaging activities like building robots, theater groups, making documentaries and videos and other positive activities to help shape our youth. The idea is that every kid’s interest is sparked with an activity that becomes a reinforcement of academic development and a catalyst of learning.
Q: What family-based services does the Evanston Y.O.U. provide?
A: We provide mental health counselors, therapists, mentors, and parental engagement services.
Q: How did the shooting death of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman last year shape existing initiatives?
A: We’ve always been working to eliminate youth violence. It’s the core of our mission because when kids are healthy and successful they’re picking up a text book instead of a weapon. Since the shooting last year, the Y.O.U. has added special initiatives to help the community cope. We’ve held small-group discussions open to the community and have counselors available to make home visits and help families deal with the tragedy. We’ve also held several events to promote against gun violence.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the most important thing people should know about Y.O.U.?
A: I think we’re a community treasure. It’s all about a commitment to providing opportunities for people of all backgrounds. People in the Evanston community totally get that we have great diversity here and that we have to invest in that diversity in order to keep it. We believe that all the kids in Evanston should have an equal chance, and that’s the core of what we do.
For more information on Evanston Y.O.U., go to www.youevanston.org.