LaTanya & The Youth of Englewood is an after-school program in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood.
This organization has been established to work with youth ages 5 to 13 to provide after school activities including education, recreation, communication skill building, social opportunities, advocacy and support. Most importantly, this protective program provides strong relationships with capable, caring, and positive adults – a key component of helping children cope and succeed in a dangerous and violent environment like the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago.
One of the biggest problems in the community is children who are left unsupervised or unoccupied from 4 to 8PM. Children are extremely vulnerable to gangs and mischief-makers in this window. Countless studies show a link between exposure to violence in the community and symptoms of aggressive behavior, depression, and anxiety in school-age children living in violent urban neighborhoods. Studies of school-age children exposed to violence via social media and television have also recognized adverse effects over time. When children don’t succeed, it enforces the cycle of poverty and crime in a neighborhood.
When ‘Tee Tee LaTanya” and her 30 kids entered Midnight Circus’ “Little Big Top” in Englewood’s Hamilton Park, the energy and excitement level increased immediately. LaTanya Johnson founded LaTanya & The Youth of Englewood, a nonprofit that provides free summer camp and after school activities for children 5 to 13, four years ago with the goal of providing a safe, loving space and positive experiences for kids. “When you grab kids at this age,” LaTanya explained, “You can steer them in the right direction.”
Everything LaTanya does is free for the participating children, parents and guardians. As a child growing up in Englewood, LaTanya’s mother couldn’t afford to send her to any summer or after-school programs. When not in school, LaTanya spent her time running around the streets, “using dirty mattresses as makeshift trampolines”. She wishes she had more as a child and today, is providing that ‘more’ for the children around her.
LaTanya & The Youth of Englewood has grown over the past four years mostly through word of mouth. This past summer, LaTanya had 46 kids in her program. In July, she, along with chaperones, took the children to Navy Pier. LaTanya had been to Navy Pier one other time in her life and for most of ‘her babies’, as she calls them, it was their first time. “We didn’t have any funds to do anything once we were at Navy Pier,” LaTanya explained, “But, we packed lunches and had a blast walking around. The experiences don’t have to be big, but it’s important get them out of the environment and let them see other parts of the city.”
Aeisha Butler, president of the Hamilton Park Advisory Council arranged a sponsor for a bus and tickets for LaTanya & The Youth of Englewood to attend the circus.
“When I walked into the tent and saw that the kids get to sit right up front on mats that touched the center ring and can interact with the artists, I almost cried,” LaTanya laughed. “I get very emotional when it comes to my kids. The kids loved the circus. At the end, when the Ring Master invited them to ‘Come Join the Circus’, they were so happy to dance in the center ring and meet, hug and get autographs from all of the performers.”
“I have such big dreams for my community and my kids,” said LaTanya. “We have some very smart, amazing kids here in Englewood. They need to know that there are people out there for them. And I want them to be able to have experiences that other kids have. They deserve it.”
How can you help?
- Donate to help cover day to day expenses and transport the kids to events such as the College Football Classic at Soldier Field on September 30th
- Volunteer to come teach children a life skill or about what you do
- Donate a space in Englewood to host the program
- Have an 8-passenger van to donate? Transportation is always a limitation