Erie Neighborhood House Adds Youth Position to Board of Directors

July 25, 2016 | Chicago, IL

Latino Caucus Foundation

Asael Reyes, pictured third from left at the Latino Caucus Foundation gala last fall, will be the first to serve in the new youth position on the Erie House board. PHOTO COURTESY TASOS KATOPODIS

The Erie Neighborhood House Board of Directors approved a new youth position designed to provide youth and young adults a stronger voice in board-related matters for the nonprofit organization.

Asael Reyes, a TEAM program graduate who is now a sophomore at University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), will be the first individual to serve in this role. “It’s a complete honor for me to be joining the board at such a young age,” says Asael, whose board appointment is part of an upward personal trajectory that has witnessed him succeed time and time again in spite of odds stacked against him.

Asael is an undocumented immigrant and a recipient of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which among other things gives him temporary protection from deportation and the chance to obtain work authorization. Prior to the creation of that program, he had struggled immensely in school due to lack of motivation, bottoming out with a 0.24 GPA.

He attended Erie House from 2012 to 2015 and credits the agency’s mentoring program—and, in particular, volunteer TEAM mentor and board member Bradley Hergott—with helping him get his life on track. “If it weren’t for Erie House, I honestly don’t think I would have made it to college,” he says.

Since graduating from high school, Asael has maintained a 4.0 GPA at UIC, where he is studying psychology and political science with a minor in public policy. He received a full-tuition scholarship following a moving speech he gave to the Latino Caucus Foundation last fall in which he detailed his struggles and personal transformation.

Asael is eager to begin serving Erie House in this new role. “Now I get to influence some of the decisions being made at Erie House,” he says. “As a former participant, that means a lot.”

Serving on the board will also be a good primer for Asael’s career aspirations. “I definitely want to work in policy-making,” he says, indicating he has interest in becoming an alderman or a state legislator. When asked about the issue he is most passionate about, he doesn’t hesitate to respond. “Immigration reform,” he says. “I am undocumented and most of my family is undocumented, so I have perspective that can help produce change.”

The board of directors has long reserved seats for program participants, but those individuals have either been adult participants or parents of children and youth enrolled in programs at Erie House. Asael seems like a natural choice for this new role.

“Asael embodies so much of our mission,” says Kirstin Chernawsky, executive director at Erie House. “He is passionate about social justice and has first-hand awareness of the injustices facing so many immigrants living in the United States.”

Chernawsky adds that Asael’s success story will serve both as inspiration to participants as well as a reminder to his fellow board members of the impact Erie House makes in the community.

“The work we do at Erie House so often transforms the lives of our participants. By providing education and the tools and resources they need, our immigrant neighbors—people not unlike Asael—can achieve a better life for themselves and their families,” she says. “That’s a powerful, tangible example that will be at the table as our board makes important decisions to help guide the future of Erie House.”

 

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