Related Midwest Blog

Chicago's After School Matters Peacemakers Program prepares the next generation of community leaders


The Related Affordable Foundation proudly supports Peacemakers at Parkway Gardens, an After School Matters program that empowers Chicago teenagers to counter violence by promoting positive contributions to their communities. The program enables local teens to plan and carry out signature projects in their neighborhoods, helping them build their critical thinking and collaboration skills, in addition to leaving a lasting impact. Peacemakers is driven by its participants, and so students are motivated to identify their own solutions to issues and then to implement them as leaders.

One of Peacemakers’ young leaders is Whitney M. Young Magnet High School sophomore Nyla Williams. Through the program, Williams gave talks about the principles of Kwanzaa and helped distribute COVID-19 safety supplies to her community. Williams’ experience in Peacemakers has even inspired her to “start something of [her] own” as she looks ahead to potential careers. 

“Our goal is to leave a legacy for the people who come behind us,” Williams says. She adds that Peacemakers gave her the confidence to voice her opinions on community needs, and that the program helped her stay connected in a difficult season by providing a safe space to talk about current events affecting her community.

“It’s like a second family to me,” Williams said of her Peacemakers group. “We’re really close and we work very well together. Every day, we go around and do a check-in—we say how we’re feeling mentally and physically and how we’re doing in school.”

Non-profit After School Matters launched the Peacemakers programs in the summer of 2017 in partnership with Chicago CRED. During its first summer, Peacemakers programs operated in 21 Chicago neighborhoods and served 1,100 teens. Each year, After School Matters provides after-school and summer programs to nearly 19,000 Chicago public high school students. These programs support teens to explore their passions and develop their talents while gaining critical skills for work, college and beyond. Each After School Matters program is project-based, led by industry experts and provides a pathway to progress in skills development and independence. Teens earn a stipend while participating in programs in the arts, communications and leadership, sports and STEM. Over the last 30 years, After School Matters has engaged more than 350,000 Chicago teens.

“After School Matters believes that teens' voices are essential for shaping both the present and future of our city,” said Melissa Mister, Chief Program Officer at After School Matters. “Our Peacemakers programs support teens' development as leaders and changemakers in their communities. As the pandemic has widened the opportunity gap for low-income youth of color, the Related Affordable Foundation's generous investment in our Peacemakers programs at Parkway Gardens has helped ensure that our teens continue to have equitable access to high-quality program opportunities.”