Today we’d like to introduce you to Audrey George.
Audrey, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I volunteered with a few non-profit groups during college and was struck by the direct impact I could have simply by showing up. The groups were all tight on money, staff, and volunteers, so I was able to really see the effects of my volunteer time. I was very invested in this work and decided to join a year of service program after graduation. That led to a second year in that program and then to four years at Blessed Sacrament Youth Center in North Lawndale. I was the only full-time staff member at the youth center and was learning how to run youth programs and manage the organization all through direct experience.
My career goal was to be an Executive Director of a non-profit. I loved working at the youth center but wanted to work somewhere that was already well established where I could learn how to run a business. I took a job as the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for the Greater Chicago Food Depository because it was so well run. Mike Mulqueen was the Executive Director of the Food Depository at the time. He often said that non-profit is a tax designation, not a business strategy, He adhered to solid business practices, and the organization was, and still is, a great success because of that philosophy.
In October of 1999, I became the first Executive Director of Horizons for Youth, where I still work to this day. Horizons was run by an incredibly impressive group of volunteers for eight years, and they were looking to bring on professional staff. I felt like my years at the youth center and those at the Food Depository provided the perfect combination of experiences to prepare me for this role. We were serving 42 children in elementary school programs at the time. We now work with 275 students from kindergarten through college, providing them with the individual supports they need to overcome the many obstacles to success that our society has erected over time. We work with children of all academic ability levels, and most become the first in their families to graduate from college.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The greatest professional challenge I have faced is maintaining the culture of Horizons for Youth as we have grown to serve more students over time. Children in our program and their parents consider us their second family. This is a responsibility that we take seriously, and it is a key reason for our success. For the future of our organization, it is critical that we continue to find ways to create sub-groups within the larger organization and other ways to keep the close sense of community that we enjoy today.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Horizons for Youth – what should we know?
Horizons for Youth is a non-profit organization that provides wrap-around services for children on Chicago’s south and west sides. We work with students from kindergarten through college to make sure they have the supports they need to be successful. Our programs include mentoring, tutoring, counseling, a summer academic program, field trips, and more. We are known for quality, individualized services that meet the needs of each student as well as support for the entire family when needed.
Key differences between our organization and others are our depth and length of service, as well as our commitment to serving children of all academic ability levels. We do not screen our participants based on merit. Because of our individualized approach, we can help almost any student find personal and academic success. Roughly 30% of our participants are diverse learners with challenges such as dyslexia, visual or auditory processing challenges, or ADHD. Our dedicated staff and key partners work hard to diagnose these learning challenges and help students understand how they learn. We also coach parents and teachers on how to work with these students to help them reach their real potential. This discovery is often life-changing. After being diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD and then finally beginning to understand how he learns, a student once told me, “All these years I just thought I was stupid.” He didn’t think that any more, Moments like that are what our team lives for.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Staying open-minded is one key to my success. I love bouncing ideas around with our students, parents, staff, volunteers and others. You never know when the next great idea will pop up, and it is important to always be on the lookout for ways to grow and improve.
- Address: 703 W. Monroe
- Website: www.horizons-for-youth.org
- Phone: 312-627-9031
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: Horizons for Youth