March 01, 2018
Growing up in Chicago’s western suburbs, Sarah Nemecek spent a lot of time at the Greater LaGrange YMCA — working out with friends in high school, dropping her brother off for sports, and visiting her uncle, who lived in center’s former housing facility for a few years. “The Y has been part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she says. “It’s always been a part of my story … and my family’s story.”
Last summer, Sarah joined the YMCA of Metro Chicago as the Senior Manager of Operations for our Youth Safety and Violence Prevention (YSVP) initiative. “I help with all the behind-the-scenes stuff — budgeting, contracts, grant proposals. It’s definitely a jack-of-all-trades position,” she says.
After graduating from high school in Western Springs a few miles away from the Greater LaGrange Y, Sarah completed a BA in History and Philosophy from Pepperdine University, followed by a masters degree in Regional and Urban Planning Studies from the London School of Economics. While in London, she focused her research on Chicago’s public housing policies. “I concentrated on affordable housing, on the impact that changes to public housing were having on the city, specifically in Cabrini-Green.”
Before joining the Y, Sarah was the operations director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on shared forms of transportation, like public transit, bike-sharing, car-sharing.
“I’ve always worked in the nonprofit and public sectors on issues related to cities and urban policy,” Sarah says. “And I’ve always been most interested in the social issues around urban planning and policy. Violence prevention fits right into that category.”
Though she’s only been with YSVP since June 2017, Sarah has already seen the kind of difference it can make. “Going to the Safe Humane event in Pilsen is really incredible,” she says. “Our kids train and socialize dogs that have been written off as unadoptable, and at the end of the program, they show off their new tricks and obedience in front of an audience. Some of the kids were really shy before, but after working with the dogs, they talk about how it helped them open up and overcome their anxiety. Seeing the before and after, and how kids are able to grow through these activities, is really inspiring.”
More than anything else, Sarah says her role at YSVP is all about helping outreach workers do their jobs. “They have really difficult work that can be really emotionally taxing, so if there’s anything I can do to take something off their plates … that’s why I’m here.”