Meet Vanessa Schwartz, Southeast Center Director

Join Vanessa in celebrating Metropolitan Southeast Chicago’s 30th Anniversary! Our “Invest in our Youth” event benefiting Community Schools is July 26. Click here for more information.

Vanessa Schwartz was born and raised in Southeast Chicago. “I love that community,” she says. “That community has been my home forever, it’s always been my heart and soul.”

After 25 years at Metropolitan Family Services, she’s now Center Director of Metropolitan’s Southeast Chicago Center.

Nearly all Vanessa’s various roles at Metropolitan have been based out of Southeast Chicago, working with youth programs and community development. She began as an Intake Worker, and has worked in peer mentoring at area schools, in financial literacy with a mentorship program for moms, as Youth Services Director for a community YouthNet partnership, as Resource Coordinator for the Community Schools program at Bowen High School, and as Program Supervisor for the Healthy Families program.

Embedded in programs based on collaboration between Metropolitan and the community around the center, Vanessa spent years getting to know the agencies and people of Southeast Chicago. As organizations and resources in the neighborhood close, Vanessa says there’s a sense of camaraderie among those remaining, a drive to keep the community’s culture alive, to “try and fight the good fight.”

“It’s all about collective impact,” Vanessa says.

For the center’s upcoming 30th Anniversary celebration, an “Investing in our Youth” fundraiser benefiting the Community Schools program, Metropolitan Southeast and its Community Board are working to impact students at Bowen High School, Marsh Elementary, and Gallistel Elementary.

The Community Schools program offers programming before and after school; from field trips and experiences throughout the city, to classes in areas including academics, entrepreneurship, music, drama, sports, and mentoring. As Vanessa says, “We’re providing opportunities kids would never have were it not for Community Schools.”

Working with the Community Schools program for more than 10 years, Vanessa has seen firsthand what those opportunities can do. She sees the impact on students who don’t often get the chance to venture outside their neighborhood to experience things they’ve only seen on TV, things many kids would take for granted, things that may open her kids’ eyes to a new passion or career path.

Vanessa recalls one day after a field trip to a cooking class, a student’s mother called Vanessa and asked, “What did you do to my kid?” He had gotten up that morning and cooked breakfast for her.

“Stories like that are what keeps us going,” she says.

What else keeps the Community Schools program going? The support of her Community Board, comprised largely of people working at other community organizations (look out for the popcorn machine at the 30th Anniversary celebration, courtesy of Claretian Associates!), has been invaluable, as has the dedication of her staff. Vanessa says working in the program can be overwhelming, but the staff “really rally behind these kids. We want to see them succeed.”

“We provide these opportunities that families would never have thought possible,” Vanessa says. “That is what inspires us.”

Learn more about the Southeast Community Schools program and our 30th Anniversary Celebration here.

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