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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Out exec director aims to help Southwest Side youths
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2012-02-28

This article shared 2232 times since Tue Feb 28, 2012
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During her two-year stint from 2009-2011 as the youth program director for the Center on Halsted, Alicia Tellez Vega began to understand the plight faced by South Side and West Side youths who needed LGBTQ resources.

"Many were shunned by their own communities and families so they would travel far distances seeking a place where they could be safe and welcomed," Vega said. "For many young people, they did find the safety and security they needed at the Center on Halsted, Broadway Youth Center, Night Ministry, Youth Lounge and Café Pride.

"However, there were other dynamics in place on the north side that created barriers and obstacles to providing South and West Side young people with the high-quality, culturally-competent services that they deserve. As a Latina born and raised on the South Side, I felt called to work to address these unmet needs. I left [the Center] to seek other ways to support South and West Side marginalized youth, especially LGBT young people."

Vega, 42, who lives in Chicago's McKinley Park neighborhood, was appointed as the new executive director of the Southwest Youth Collaborative (SWYC), its board of directors announced Feb. 14. She brings more than 15 years of experience working with children, youth and families in communities across Chicago, particularly, her native South Side—areas particularly impacted by violence.

"When I first learned about the executive director position opening at Southwest Youth Collaborative, I was immediately interested because of the respect I have for the history and accomplishments of the organization," Vega said. "I feel passionate about the mission and the youth community that it serves—Southwest Side youth. These communities are near and dear to my heart because it is the community my fiancée and I currently live; it is where we both grew up; and it is where my family's children are growing up. In addition, it is one of the communities where LGBT youth are leaving to seek services far north and they should be able to find these services in their own communities. SWYC has already begun to support LGBT youth with their Generation Y program, community organizing efforts and LGBT competencies it is services."

Vega received a bachelor of science degree in applied psychology and a master of jurisprudence in child law degree from Loyola University Chicago. She is engaged to Sofia G. Sarabia. Vega began her career at Loyola University Chicago in a management position at the CIVITAS Childlaw Center. She later moved into the child welfare arena by working at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The majority of her career was at the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center, serving as the chief program officer for a national model agency providing multi-disciplinary investigations of child sexual abuse.

She then went to revamp the youth program at the Center on Halsted.

In addition, she currently serves on the Illinois Children's Justice Task Force, was a member of the Illinois Child Death Review Team and provided community leadership as a board member of Amigas Latinas Association.

"After leaving [the Center], I was hired by Mary Morten to join her team as a community engagement leader on the Chicago-Metro LGBT Community Needs Assessment to inform a fund developed by Chicago Community Trust," Vega said. "As I conducted community leader interviews and facilitated focus groups, I gained an enormous amount of perspective on the complex needs of LGBT youth in Chicago, particularly South and West Side youth of color.

"I have a master of jurisprudence in child law degree and a bachelor of science degree in psychology. I brings over 15 years of experience working with children, youth and families in communities across Chicago. Born and raised on the South Side, my vision and drive has always been to serve the South Side communities of the city, particularly those affected by violence."

Vega said the SWYC has already begun to support LGBT youth with its Generation Y program, as well as community organizing efforts and the LGBT-competent services it provides. "However, there are so significant unmet youth needs," she said. "As mentioned, youth are leaving these communities to find resources on the far North Side. This may be because they are fearful of being found out within their own community and don't feel safe. So my vision is to build on the LGBT foundation that SWYC has created, conduct community engagement in educating the South and West Side communities on LGBT issues and develop collaborations with other South and West Side agencies to increase the safe and competent services on the South and West Sides so our youth can feel they can turn to their own communities for support.

"For 20 years, SWYC has empowered youth from marginalized communities to overcome unthinkable obstacles. Often times other institutions or communities have pushed youth out or given up on them. SWYC has reached out to the most challenging populations of young people and proven that with support, compassion, and healing, all youth can find strength and power to make healthy choices for themselves and their communities. I plan to build on these accomplishments and create stronger resources and networks to reach more youth and families."

SWYC has scheduled an open house for Thursday, March 1, 5-7 p.m., 6400 S. Kedzie Ave., to introduce Vega to the community.

"Alicia has a compelling vision for the future and possesses the drive, energy and compassion to make the vision a reality. The Board has full confidence in her commitment to youth and to the communities we serve," said Usama Houlila, president of SWYC's board of directors.

Camille Odeh, founding executive director of SWYC, added: "I am honored to pass the leadership of SWYC to Alicia Vega, a competent and committed social justice advocate. Alicia is experienced in developing comprehensive children, youth and family systems, providing leadership in not-for-profit administration and program development. She is a strong child welfare advocate and proponent of civic engagement. During these urgent economic times and difficult conditions facing children and youth, her experience will give SWYC the ability to develop a new generation of leadership and build vibrant intergenerational communities which will improve the quality of life for all of Chicago's children, youth and families."


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