Angel Benitez had to leave his after-school program in the 7th grade because his family couldn’t afford it. Then they found out about Universidad Popular, which was offering an after-school program, Up to Youth, at no charge. At the time, Angel was getting D’s and F’s in his classes and needed academic support. He also needed a place to unwind and feel safe. Staff members at Universidad Popular made sure he understood his assignments and checked his homework to make sure it was correct. They also offered an enticing incentive once he finished: He could participate in recreational activities with his peers, including basketball.

A year after joining Universidad Popular, Angel was earning A’s and B’s. The staff there “really helped me a lot,” says Angel, 18, who has a mild learning disability. This year he’s a senior at a charter school. Universidad Popular’s assistance went beyond academics. “Before, I didn’t listen to anybody,” he says. “Now I want to hear other people’s opinions, and I can communicate better with my dad,” he says. Abraham Celio, the nonprofit’s development director, has watched Angel come into his own. “He has definitely grown,” Abraham says. “When he first came here, he was struggling with attendance. His dad thought he was in school when he was actually at home.”

As it turned out, he was being bullied at school. Abraham says Angel has built up his confidence to be able to deal with peer pressure in constructive ways. “We especially saw a lot of growth between eighth grade and high school,” Abraham says. Angel still has strong ties to the nonprofit, where he volunteers to coordinate events and supervise younger students. He also has become a youth facilitator at Chicago Freedom School. “My biggest accomplishment is becoming a translator-coordinator at the school. If it wasn’t for Universidad Popular I wouldn’t be in that position because they told me about it and helped me fill out the forms.”

“We want them to have diverse experiences in the community with the opportunities that are available.”

Abraham Celio

In the future, he would like to become a teacher who specializes in working with students with learning disabilities so he can assist others who have experienced the kind of academic struggles that he has. He also aspires to become a coordinator of youth programs. “I would love to be involved with Universidad Popular because of how they helped me,” he says. “Hopefully I can come back and work with them.” Abraham says there are many participants in the program like Angel. “When they come to us, we help them learn about other opportunities within the Little Village Youth Safety Network,” he says. “We want them to have diverse experiences in the community with the opportunities that are available.”

Not everyone has an equal shot at the American Dream. Fortunately, there are dedicated people across Chicagoland who are committed to making sure every child and family has opportunities to achieve their goals. With your support, we can create new possibilities and help make countless dreams come true. With support from donors like you, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation invests in organizations on Chicago’s South and West sides improving the lives of children and families each and every day.