For Sue Wilson, the decision to get involved with Y.O.U. in 2014 didn’t come from a sudden “aha!” moment. Instead, it came from her long-held desire to empower the community’s youth and from the realization that she held relationships that offered new opportunities for Y.O.U.’s youth. In just two years, Wilson has become a key volunteer leader in Y.O.U.’s efforts -- seeding a strategic partnership between Y.O.U. and Northwestern University’s Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, supporting a pilot leadership development program, and becoming a founding supporter of Y.O.U.’s new endowment alongside her husband, Steve Wilson, the former CEO of CF Industries.
Both 1970 Northwestern University graduates, the Wilsons moved to Evanston permanently in 1979. They built strong ties to the community and their children, Beth and Jeff, grew up attending Lincolnwood Elementary School, Haven Middle School, and Evanston Township High School. As Elizabeth and Jeffrey both developed careers in the education field, Steve and Sue came to fully see both the urgent need and the value of expanding educational opportunities for youth.
So when Steve and Sue received an invitation to participate in Youth Entrepreneurship Summer (YES!) Camp – a Y.O.U. summer learning program that teaches high school youth to develop and execute their own business plans – they were eager to provide feedback and mentorship to this group. For Sue, the confidence and enthusiasm the youth demonstrated during her visit to YES! Camp showed her that Y.O.U. was onto something crucial.
“Y.O.U. really struck me as being very effective in doing what they were setting out to do,” Sue said.
Wanting to provide even more support, Sue connected Y.O.U. with the Block Museum to provide youth with the opportunity to explore world-class art. Many Y.O.U. groups visited the museum to discuss art and inspire their own artistic creations. The Block additionally hosted numerous family nights so that all members of Y.O.U. families could participate in the experience. Y.O.U.’s engagement with the Block Museum deepened even further when The Leadership Project – a Y.O.U.-supported high school group dedicated to growing the conversation on race – developed a community event focused around a museum exhibit.
“The partnership is so much bigger now and that’s exactly as it should be,” Sue said. “These two great organizations coming together was serendipitous.”
In addition to helping youth today, the Wilsons understand the importance of maintaining strong programming in the future. To ensure the continuation of Y.O.U’s programs, the Wilsons have made an extraordinary gift of $500,000 to Y.O.U.’s new endowment.
“We know the quality of the programs at Y.O.U. and we want to make sure that they continue,” Sue said. “Y.O.U. is an organization with a very lofty mission – to eliminate the opportunity gap. From what I’ve seen, the program model and the relationships that youth have with staff seem to be working.”
The concern for youth that originally drew Sue and Steve to Y.O.U. still fuels their passion today.
“My hope is that as more people become aware of Y.O.U., like I did, more connections will be made and more support will come from the entire community,” Sue said. “These little things can spark a lot of success down the road for the children, especially in working to level the playing field. Y.O.U. gives them that chance."