By Kristin Boza
City Year Chicago is making a big impact in the lives of nearly 15,000 Chicago Public School students on the south and west sides. City Year Chicago Executive Director Rebeca Nieves Huffman is a Beverly/Morgan Park resident who volunteered through the program from 1998 to 1999, and she now dedicates her career to helping other children reach their full potential and eventually make an impact in their communities.
The program is part of an initiative that pairs AmeriCorps volunteers with elementary and high school students in 29 cities across the United States to address the risks and long-lasting effects of student drop-out rates. As executive director of the Chicago program, Huffman is responsible for raising the resources necessary to run the programs and to be the face and voice for the city’s youth.
“I consider it such a privilege that I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. Growing up in Humboldt Park, which is very similar to Beverly, I grew up with people that thought the same way, went to the same church, and spoke the same language. It’s great to lead a team that looks like the United Nations; we have different belief systems and educational levels and backgrounds, but we are all role models for our students,” Huffman said. “My role is to raise money, be a voice for our youth, and help our students meet academic goals while also being there for them socially and emotionally.”
Huffman and her husband Craig moved to Beverly/Morgan Park in 2008, and were drawn here because of the strong sense of community, great schools and safe atmosphere. “When we were looking at houses in Beverly, we almost felt like we were in the suburbs with the sprawling yards and family feel,” she said. “I remember hearing about how safe it is here and it was great to know that my kids would be able to ride their bikes in front of the house. There’s a great community of neighbors here; if we see something ‘off’ or great about the kids, we let each other know. It feels like a village is coming together to raise them.”
With a son at Sutherland Elementary School and a daughter at St. Barnabas School, Huffman is entrenched in the variety of educational opportunities available here. “Schools are a reflection of the value of the community. I have two kids with completely different educational needs, and it’s great that they can be met at these two separate learning environments,” she said.
City Year Chicago is always looking for donations of money or time to help reach as many CPS students as possible. In April, the organization will hold its annual Ripples of Hope gala, which accounts for a quarter of their private revenue dollars. To find out more about City Year Chicago or make a donation, visit CityYear.org/Chicago.