Youth Leader by Day, Doctor by Night

CHICAGO /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — As a medical student in the 1980s, Joe DiCara saw firsthand the disparities that existed in Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood. Time and time again, he would see children and young adults in his clinic that had poor access to basic healthcare, little interest in school and high exposure to violence, which, sadly, led to a bleak outlook for their futures. DiCara, along with some of his fellow students, dared to wonder how the cycle of poverty could be stopped. So began Chicago Youth Programs (CYP) – a program to improve the life opportunities and health of at-risk youth, from pre-school through college.

Fast forward twenty-five years, and Dr. Joe, as he’s known in the community, has overseen the expansion of CYP from a single site to centers in three underserved Chicago communities that have over 40 programs and a network of more than 650 volunteers. CYP aims to empower youth to reach their full potential by providing tutoring programs, recreational activities, free health screenings, cultural activities and career placement services. “It takes a lasting commitment to end the cycle of poverty, but I’ve seen firsthand the good that can come when you show people that you care and you want to help,” said DiCara.

But that’s just his day job. The father of four works nights as a pediatrician in the Renée Schine Crown Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Northwestern Memorial‘s Prentice Women’s Hospital, where he treats acutely ill newborns. He also is an active father who even manages to find time to coach his daughter’s softball team in his hometown of Mundelein, IL.

“When you find something you’re passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work. Hopefully I can show others the good that comes when you get involved,” said DiCara.

The results of DiCara’s passion and commitment are evident, as CYP aggressively monitors the progress and outcome of each program participant. To date, ninety percent of CYP participants have been placed in a college or trade school, and the pregnancy rate of participants is less than one percent—far lower than the greater population.

The many anecdotes of past students demonstrate the program’s success. One such success story isMonique Cook-Bey, a former CYP participant who graduated college, has a master’s degree in education, and is currently working on a PhD.

“I accomplished so much in my life that, at a young age, I wasn’t sure would be possible. CYP helped me build my dreams, and that’s what this program is all about. It’s inspiring our kids to believe they can be successful,” said Cook-Bey, who is now a director of one of the CYP centers and oversees the programs that she attributes to her success.

DiCara recently received funding for CYP through Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Physician Community Service Grants Initiative, which was created to support both local and international not-for-profit community organizations in which members of the medical staff volunteer their time and talents. In 2009, CYP received a $10,000 grant, and in 2010, a $5,000 grant in response to a proposal submitted by DiCara. The funding will be used to support volunteer tutoring and mentoring activities for vulnerable youth in the Chicago area that are at high risk for drugs and gang violence.