Our Stories

At UCAN, we are committed to achieving our vision that youth who suffer trauma can become our future leaders. We continue forward in this work in the face of these unprecedented times. For many of our youth, their lives prior to COVID-19 were marred by trauma and the circumstances that often followed. As we navigate these uncertain times, our youth still face the issues that brought them to UCAN along with the stress that the pandemic has created. Our dedicated employees, while ensuring their personal safety, are working remotely through distance learning, conference calls and virtual connections to provide needed services and resources to our youth and families, and to remain in touch with each other. Through it all, UCAN has and will continue to focus on living out our mission to build strong youth and families through compassionate healing, education and empowerment.

UCAN Voices

Youth involved in the UCAN Voices program utilize spoken word and music as a means of self-expression, healing from trauma and community identification.  Staff facilitating sessions will work with the youth on identifying the story they want to express themselves with spoken word or song.  Musical instruments and computer programming are utilized to enhance their experiences, as needed.  Our goal is to provide a safe space and tools to allow youth to tell their stories for personal healing and growth so that youth will identify a stronger sense of who they are and display improvement in the integration of social emotional well-being.

UCAN Academy

UCAN Academy, comprised of two campuses across Chicago, is an innovative 1st through 12th grade, year-round therapeutic day school. A special education curriculum is used by experienced staff to help students who have experienced difficulties in previous school settings and who benefit from a smaller, more individualized classroom environment. As the largest and one of the most recognized therapeutic day schools in the area, each child enrolled in UCAN Academy comes to us with a unique set of needs. We help them to see schooling in a positive light and to reach their highest potential. During the pandemic, UCAN worked to ensure had access to reliable, up-to-date tablets that can be used for both in-class learning and remote learning required as part of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandates. 

Continuum of Care

UCAN’s catalytic wrap-around service model, our Continuum of Care, was developed in the 1980s by our current President and CEO, Thomas Vanden Berk. For the decades following its creation we continuously enhanced this concept of programming to provide comprehensive and multi-faceted support to Chicago’s youth-in-care. We believe through compassion and consistency our Continuum of Care can heal the generational impact of trauma and prepare our young people for a life of leadership as community builders and healers.

Foster Care

UCAN’s foster care program recognizes that children in care have, by definition, experienced significant trauma prior to placement. A critical element in the philosophy of care is to minimize the likelihood of additional trauma due to inadequate foster parenting, disruptions, or prolonged uncertainty regarding permanency resolution. UCAN endeavors to provide enriched experiences for children in care, continuity in relationships with case managers, ample attention to clinical counseling needs, and continuity in agency support for children who transition to different programs within the UCAN continuum of service.

Workforce Development

UCAN's Workforce Development programs empower our participants to achieve their highest level by honing their job skills and propelling them toward economic self-sufficiency. Our work is driven by the desire to inspire, motivate and educate. We respect the life experiences our participants bring to the table and recognize how those experiences might positively or negatively impact future employment goals. UCAN does this by developing workforce readiness skills, building positive social supports and employment connections, and engaging our participants in opportunities through various summer and year-round employment programs.

Educational Coaching

Education Coaches help young people excel in school by supporting them in enrolling, attending and achieving the education goals that they set for themselves. They attend meetings with young people to advocate for their needs in the school setting and make sure that their support systems are in place for homework help, extracurricular activities and other academic and social enrichment. 

Violence Intervention &
Prevention Services

Trauma caused by violence is affecting our young people and preventing them from pursuing a satisfying future. Our Violence Intervention & Prevention Services (VIPS) program was created as a resource to help our youth thrive in a safer environment, so they can be empowered to fulfill their potential and become our future leaders. We worked with the community through the VIPS program to deepen our impact and expand our core trauma informed services to the nearly 2,000 young people who reside in the North Lawndale community on Chicago’s West Side.

The Future

We are UCAN. We are young people looking for pathways to our potential. We are families who want the best for one another but are often faced with difficult circumstances and tough decisions. We are a community of caring and concerned citizens doing our part to positively impact our collective story. We are people dedicated to providing the absolute best of ourselves to secure their future, our future. For it is our goal to see healing in eyes less shadowed by past hurt, eyes that now look forward to a future filled with hope and aspiration.  

Miss Swan's Story

Kemisha Swan is an entrepreneur with her own line of barbeque sauces, Miss Swan’s Perfect BBQ Sauce (https://www.swansbbq.com/), where she proudly placed top ten in the nation for her sweet and spicy sauce. She received her Bachelor's degree from NEIU in Criminal Justice and Social Work. To add to her many accomplishments, Kemisha wrote a memoir, Untouchable Flame, about her experiences growing up in foster care and how she was able to overcome the many challenges before and after foster care. Kemisha is also a proud UCAN Alumni Association member and can often be found giving back to the larger UCAN community.

Diversity, Equity &

UCAN is elevating and accelerating its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives in the wake of our nation's heightened awareness of racial injustice, systemic racism and because of our history in this work. We are switching the conversations from divisive language to unifying dialogue. With our clients and the larger community, we are continuously changing feelings of fear and anger to those of acceptance and understanding. We are addressing our nation’s race problem instead of it being just someone else’s and are well-positioned to lead other organizations in transformational DEI work through programming, intentional conversations, and training.