May 10, 2018
Adrian Hernandez, Program Director of the Humboldt Park Youth Safety and Violence Prevention (YSVP) site, always knew he wanted to serve youth, but it wasn’t until he was in a classroom and student teaching that he realized he’d rather make an impact on youth through social work. He identified with the students he worked with and some of the problems they had, so he decided to become the mentor he never had growing up.
Adrian was raised on the southwest side of Chicago in the Pilsen neighborhood. Although he learned about the YMCA as a kid because he had a family membership at the Rauner Family YMCA, he didn’t know about YSVP until he was at Northeastern University, studying social work, after switching from an education major. While completing his degree, he was an intern at the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s YSVP program. He decided he would fit in well because of his background. “I always wanted to serve young people because I lived their life. I’m from Pilsen. I come from divorced parents and I was causing trouble in the neighborhood, up to no good.”
After completing his internship with YSVP, Adrian became an Outreach Specialist and was later promoted to Senior Outreach Specialist. In this role, he recruited youth to join YSVP’s programs like Story Squad, Urban Warriors, and Saturday Sanctions. He also facilitated the programs, peace circles at schools, and other less structured activities, like basketball tournaments, with the other YMCA of Metro Chicago YSVP sites.
“I know I’ve made a difference with the youth.” Adrian recalls a time he worked with one particular YSVP participant who was clinically diagnosed with PTSD. He was able to help him learn to control his emotions and improve his interaction with others so that he is no longer confrontational at all times.
His new position as the Program Director does not consist of interacting with the youth as often, but he knows his work is important and impactful. “A lot of times our youth come into the program pretty hungry.” Adrian takes care of the administrative work, like putting in requests for food for the program participants. He also offers support to his staff to make sure programming runs smoothly and efficiently. Adrian hopes to return to school and pursue a master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago.