The Winnetka Youth Organization (WYO) is turning 50 this year, but the North Shore demographic it serves is forever young.
To celebrate its golden anniversary milestone, WYO invites the community to join the celebration with an April 13 benefit at Sheridan Shore Yacht Club. The 7 p.m. event will also feature an awards ceremony to recognize local teens.
“We’re celebrating 50 years of serving teens,” Executive Director Christina Gikas says. “The event strives to bring the community together.”
WYO provides local youth with a drop-in center, a space for musical performances and leadership groups, and weekly social service programs. It also hosts a Youth Advisory Board that brainstorms ideas for programs and activities.
“We’ve just always been able to have teens call this their second home,” Gikas says.
Countless North Shore teens have grown up with the WYO over the years.
“Our mission is to foster individual development in New Trier Township High school youth by providing adult-to-youth mentoring, as well as opportunities for leadership, citizenship, and education within a safe, informal environment,” says WYO Treasurer John Thomas.
The group will be presenting a scholarship this year in addition to its other awards. The scholarship is to be used toward expenses at the student’s first year of college (students from single-parent households are given priority). The winner will be announced at the benefit.
As for the other awards, this year’s WYO Youth Leadership Award will go to Chloe Ziomek and Katy Dickman. The Service Dedication Award will go to Maggie Cao and Vivian Adelman. The Youth Influencer Award will go to Samuel Ufford. Vargbyte will receive the Music Impact Award. And Washburne Middle School students Rocco Fernandez and Dylan Farley will receive the Burne Kindness Award.
Competition for the awards is fierce. Thomas says they draw from a large pool of students.
“Over any given year, we interact with more than 1,400 local teens both at the WYO center in Winnetka’s Community House and at various external activities,”Thomas says.“That attendance has held fast for some years.”
In addition to the awards ceremony, the benefit will feature a silent auction, dinner, open bar, and live music by The Jacks.
“People should attend because they will be supporting young lives,” Gikas says. “And they’re going to have a really good time.”
Having a good time is what WYO has been helping teens do for 50 years.
Gikas says that in addition to running the drop-in center, teens have opportunities to take field trips to the city.
“We take teens beyond their neighborhood to experience Chicago,” she explains. “We just do these fun Chicago landmarks.”
And on Saturdays, WYO helps teens partici- pate in public service projects such as Kids Against Hunger and Habitat for Humanity.
“There are young people now in their twenties or thirties who feel the WYO helped them greatly get through their teens safely,” Thomas says.
The key to that help is acceptance. Gikas says they enable teens to succeed by making them comfortable with who they are.
“We help them by recognizing their strengths, and encouraging those strengths,” she says. “And we help them by accepting them for exactly who they are.”
The Winnetka Youth Organization (WYO) 50th Anniversary Benef it will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13 at Sheridan Shore Yacht Club in Wilmette. Tickets are $100, available for purchase on winnetkayo.org or on eventbrite.com.