Praxis Institute
5 min readFeb 24, 2023


Coming Back Together: 5 Key Takeaways from the Summer of Healing, Love & Celebration

“When covid and all happened, I thought it was over for daily activities. It was a major struggle and depression hit me hard. However, thankfully when I came to this program my mind opened-up like never before. For the first time I found working at a job site exciting and I was full of energy to get the job done. It was a unique experience to explore my interests and feel welcome.”

— Youth Participant

Summer 2022 — For the first time in two years, nearly 25,000 Chicago youth were back in person participating in One Summer Chicago and Enrichment youth programs.

You can read the full report for summer 2022 by clicking on the link

As might be expected, some youth started the summer feeling socially out of practice and disconnected, overwhelmed and out of place. Still, young people rose to the challenge, discovering and cultivating their talents, passions and skills. Fostering connections and building new friendships.

Instructors were also back in-person, once again having to reimagine their craft. They were called on to address complex social, economic and mental health challenges facing youth and their families. Yet, one thing remained consistent: Their passion, care, and commitment. Instructors provided the safety, structure and content knowledge for teens across the city to have fun and memorable experiences.

“I had multiple instructors and each one was amazing in their own way. They challenged me out of my comfort zone to become the best person possible. They treated me with respect like an adult. Everyday going to work made me feel happy because I knew I had such incredible support and staff by my side.”

— One Summer Chicago Youth Participant

One Summer Chicago & Enrichment

This marked the 12th year the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) has provided summer programs for children, and young adults ages 6 to 24 years old. For the younger kids it's a time of purposeful play, and building key socio-emotional skills. Young adults participate in project-based learning, civic engagement projects, and internshps to support career exploration, self-discovery, self-awareness, and skill development. Many young people received wages as part of their program and during tough economic times, over 20,000 young adults earned over $25 million in wages during the summer.

Praxis Institute led the evaluation and training for the city of Chicago. We had the privilege to work with some of Chicago’s most dedicated, compassionate and talented youth development practitioners. We recently released a report, in partnership with the city of Chicago. We wanted to share some of our key take aways. Take 3–4 minutes to check it out!

Praxis conducted a city-wide survey to better understand the youth summer experience. Nearly 4,000 youth responded to the survey.

What we measured

  • Hope & Impact on Community
  • Skill development & Personal growth
  • Adult Support — Positive developmental relationships
  • Connectedness
  • Program experience
  • Belonging
  • Civic Behaviors & Attitudes — Before & After

5 Key Takeaways From Summer 2022

  1. Connectedness & Pro-Social Behaviors improved in 2022 vs. 2021

“I haven’t seen a studio space like this since pre-COVID and it’s been an emotional and transformational adventure each day. The relationships and friendships I’ve valued being able to express myself and being vulnerable without being judged and I hate being vulnerable in front of people so this was a big accomplishment and a proud moment for me.”

— Youth Participant

  • 84% of youth participants responded feeling strong connections with their peers vs. 74% in 2021. An increase of 10%
  • 78% of Youth felt the program helped them strengthen and/or build new relationships vs. 68% in 2021. An increase of 10%.

“I really loved interacting and learning from the other people in my program. I feel so grateful and happy that I got to connect with them and formed strong relationships with people who are as passionate as I am about the same things.”

— Youth Participant

2. Across Chicago, programs prioritized belonging in their programs.

“My program gave me a sense of sisterhood. It showed me how people that are different from you or of a different age group can still come together to do big things and have fun.”

— Youth Participant

  • 86% of youth surveyed reported feeling that people really listen to me at my program.
  • 87% of youth surveyed reported feeling that At my program, I feel like I matter
  • 88% of youth surveyed reported feeling more hopeful after participation in their program

3. OSC programs were crucial in increasing civic engagement and creating active change-makers across Chicago.

“This program made me think about my community and the world we live in. It made me more aware of the challenges faced by my community and empowered me to speak up. I learned that being kind and giving back helps the world little by little because the world is in need of love and care.”

— Youth Participant

After participation in One Summer Chicago Programs

  • 63% of youth reported to be more likely to take action to solve issues in their community
  • 57% of youth reported to be more likely to organize their peers around social issues they care about.

4. Quality Programs = Ongoing Staff Reflection & Youth Feedback

Praxis Institute conducted follow-up interviews with 7 of the highest-performing summer programs. A common thread that we found:

  • Staff would meet at least once or twice to reflect on things that were going well and areas for improvement
  • Programs that excelled had a formalized system to get weekly youth feedback. The feedback they received would then be discussed during the staff reflections.

Ok ok. This might seem like common sense, but it takes lots of discipline and a commitment to ensure youth feedback is taken seriously.

5. 14–15 year olds reported less positive experiences than their older peers

14–15-year olds reported less positive program experiences than youth ages 16 and older. This was especially true in terms of the areas of personal growth, and feeling a sense of belonging and connectedness.

Younger teens are not only navigating the transition to high school and adolescence but learning how to socialize with their peers in-person again. Some programs, lacked developmentally appropriate systems of support and instruction for the younger teens as they were grouped together with their older peers.



Praxis Institute

Praxis integrates theory and practice to engage, empower, and embolden communities to be agents in the creation of their individual and collective wellbeing.