The oldest of three siblings in a family with immigrant parents, Luis has felt pressure to succeed. The high school senior has received mentorship in the Proyecto Cuídate program at Erie Neighborhood House in Little Village, where staff have created space for young people like Luis to be themselves and consider the futures they want. The social services nonprofit offers comprehensive support to immigrant and low-income families to help them move from surviving to thriving.

His involvement with Erie House began in the fifth grade when he participated in school-based peace circles, a group activity focused on resolving conflicts and building community bonds. During middle school, he transitioned into the mentorship program, where he continues to receive support, including during the summer months. He also was one of the first students to join the agency’s Little Village youth council, which explores community needs and strengths, and then makes budget, hiring and other recommendations to staff to improve youth programs. During his sophomore year he was invited to become a youth ambassador, a paid internship in which he provides support to paid staff and that also requires completion of an independent project.

I found passions here that I wouldn’t even have considered, such as trying to make the life experiences of other kids better.

Luis Gonzalez

He also participates in Youth Cafe on Fridays, a safe space for young people to relax, socialize or engage in less formal activities. “Erie House can connect you to other programs to get what you need,” says Luis, 17. “Maybe you need support for college or to get a job. Erie House prioritizes youth and what it is that they want. They don’t make decisions for us.” Most people would describe Luis as shy and reserved, but he has been able to open up at Erie House. “I found passions here that I wouldn’t even have considered, such as trying to make the life experiences of other kids better.”

Solomon Martinez, the agency’s youth program manager, has seen how Luis’s self-esteem and personality have evolved. “Seeing him build confidence has been very affirming for me as a facilitator,” Solomon says. “I’ve seen him take ownership of who he is. I love when people feel like they can be themselves.” Luis echoes that sentiment: “I learned I can choose who I’m surrounded by and how to navigate the relationships I already have in my life. Being here has made me feel like I can just be me.”

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 oortunities 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.