YMCA Leader’s Club Learns About Zoning with APA Ambassador in Chicago

I had an amazing time in June with the YMCA (Irving Park) Leaders Club in Chicago!

The Leaders Club is a national YMCA program that strives to develop leadership skills and foster a culture of service among teens ages 12 to 18. My goal was to introduce high school and college bound students to the planning profession and explain how examples of planning are all around us.

I obtained permission from the Teen Leaders Club advisor as well as the manager of the YMCA prior to meeting with the Leaders Club. I wanted to provide an engaging presentation that would keep their attention throughout so I decided to use the presentation template provided on the APA Ambassadors' website as well as the game “Blocks and Lots.”

To prepare, I spent a Saturday afternoon taking pictures of the parks, schools, and a new development in the neighborhood that will include a Culver’s restaurant. Additionally, I contacted the creator of the “Blocks and Lots” game in California to obtain a PDF version of the game board on one page. In exchange the game creator asked me to email her on how well the game was received.

Being a planner requires that you speak regularly before boards, committees, and residents, but I have to admit I was really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and I really wanted the Leaders Club to leave the event inspired.

That evening during my presentation I was pleasantly surprised; they were really into it!

I received several questions throughout my presentation and the Leaders Club surprised me with what they really knew about planning. Several of the students attend school or live near the Six Corners development site — a walkable, historic shopping district in the Portage Park neighborhood in Chicago.

Many of the Leaders Club members had attended some of the various community meetings about this project with their parents and when I asked them if they thought this was a good project, they said yes. Here's why:

  • The site is close to the 90/94 expressways (true).
  • The Irving Park and Montrose Chicago Transit Authority Blue Line L stations are nearby so people will be able to take transit to the site (true).
  • The Grayland and Mayfair Metra stations are nearby and their parents can easily get off, pick up burgers, fries, and frozen custard for dinner, and walk home (true, although I can only attest to the Metra commuter rail stations being nearby).

They never realized how important these things were to “getting stuff” built within your neighborhood. I was extremely impressed.

After my presentation, we played a 10-minute ice breaker round of the game “Blocks and Lots.” Well, my 10-minute game turned into 40 minutes! The students loved it and they got really competitive. Maintaining greenspace was a common theme. 

While packing up my supplies, the Teen Leaders Club advisor wanted to know where I went to school for planning (University of Illinois at Chicago — shameless plug) and on July 13, 2016, I received an email from the advisor that she was preparing to apply to two graduate programs for planning.

I guess I inspired more than just the teens.

To learn more about the APA Ambassadors program visit www.planning.org/ambassadors/ and follow #APAAmbassadors.

Top image: Kim Porter at the YMCA Irving Park Leaders club. All photos by Lauren Reed, Teen Leaders Club Advisor.


About the Author

Kim Porter, AICP, is the manager, Grants Management in Chicago, Planning and Market Development, for the Regional Transportation Authority.


September 30, 2016