Listening to Teens: Conversations Lead to Renewed Partnerships Between United Church of Christ-related Organizations in Chicago

Advocate Healthcare executives listen as a UCAN youth shares his dreams and goals.

When a group of executives from United Church of Christ-related Advocate Healthcare recently sat down with youth from the UCC’s UCAN in Chicago, the outcome was beyond the average “let us give you advice” results.

“Our purpose was to help our senior leaders experience UCAN firsthand through a visit to its new facility, and to use our gifts and skills in service to the clients there,” said the Rev. Kathie Bender Schwich, senior vice president of mission and spiritual care at Advocate, “As is usually the case in these situations, we received much more than we were able to give.”

The occasion was the Advocate Healthcare Senior Leadership Team’s annual day of service, held each year during the Christmas holidays as one way to give back to the community. Held Dec. 14, 2017, the event gathered more than 30 Advocate executives with 37 teens from a variety of UCAN programs geared toward helping Chicago teens successfully navigate the obstacles they face. Participants were split into seven groups to discuss career and education goals, as well as the meaning of diversity and inclusion.

“The youth shared their hopes and dreams — the schools they want to attend, obstacles they face, and careers they are interested in,” said Zack Schrantz, president and CEO of UCAN, who added that the day was a great way for the Advocate executives, with their management experience, to connect with UCAN youth.

In-Depth Conversations Enlightening

CHHSM President and CEO Michael Readinger, UCAN President and CEO Zack Schrantz, and Advocate Healthcare President and CEO Jim Skogsbergh were among the participants.

The frank conversations were the hallmark of the gathering. “Discussions centered around how we as leaders faced challenges in our lives and how we engaged the support of others in helping us achieve our goals,” said Bender Schwich. “The youth were very open in sharing their stories and their dreams with us. We were impressed with the energy and focus of many in the group as they talked about their plans for the future.”

Michael J. Readinger, president and CEO of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries, attended on behalf of CHHSM.

“It was an amazing opportunity to participate in the day and watch the shared ministry of two of our member organizations come together in a meaningful way,” Readinger said. “There was a great energy and spirit of sharing between the Advocate executives and the youth and staff of UCAN. The UCAN clients and residents are truly the future, and it was great to see them asking real questions about things that concern them and their futures.”

Advocate Healthcare has an ongoing partnership with UCAN, having sponsored its annual dinner and other projects. The service day opened up a new possibility.

“Several of our leaders heard about a desire on the part of UCAN clients to be involved in the food service industry in some way,” said Bender Schwich. “This has led to ongoing conversations between UCAN staff and Advocate human resources and food and nutrition staff to explore opportunities for workforce development and job placement within Advocate. We are very hopeful about the potential for this new and ongoing aspect of our relationship.”

Perspective Gained

In the end, the connections made during the day were the most meaningful takeaways. The UCAN youth learned from the Advocate executives, and the executives discovered new perspectives on what it’s like to grow up in Chicago.

“We left UCAN grateful for the openness of the staff and for the openness and candor of the clients,” Bender Schwich said. “We were inspired by all that we learned, and for the spirit-filled conversations that we had. Several of us were eager to find ways to build on the day, and are doing so!”

Readinger concurred. After one particularly heartfelt conversation during which he gave his UCAN group members his cellphone number in case they wanted to contact him, a 24-year-old UCAN client texted Readinger, “You gave me hope.”

“It was a highly emotional day that left me exhilarated but exhausted, physically and psychologically,” he said. “It was a real expression of the UCC’s ‘3 Great Loves’ initiative in action. It is why we do this work, and I was honored to be included.”

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