Fernando Moreno’s first experience with non-profit was in high school while working for BUILD, an organization that works in some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods and provides them with alternatives to gangs.
As a youth council member for a program called “In the Glow,” Moreno was able to gain the skills necessary to help others by giving workshops about diversity, racial healing and restorative justice. Skills he uses to this day when working with Chicago’s youth.
“From there, it became this career in social work and youth work and positive youth development in Chicago,” said Moreno who became a staff member six years ago and worked his way up to Leader Development Coordinator.
Moreno passionately explains that the BUILD staff became his mentors, who made him want to engage in activities within the organization. By the beginning of 2003, they collected 10,000 signatures for the HB60 in Illinois which was passed and it allowed undocumented students to pay the same in-state tuition rate at colleges and universities as U.S. citizens, instead of being required to pay a larger fee.
His current role is to develop leadership skills not only with youth but also in a lot of community organizations. In addition, he leads the “Stay in School” initiative.
“Basically what it does is teach high school students about business etiquette – from networking to interview skills to resume building – all of the professional level skills so that they can learn and at the end they have an opportunity to interview for an internship,” he said.
Moreno has also worked with other organizations in Chicago such as the GEAR UP Alliance, where he got the opportunity to tutor kids and help put them on a path toward higher education. They are able to track students from seventh grade to high school and help them go on college tours, along with workshops, teaching them about scholarships and how to apply for financial assistance.
Through ENLACE, they have been able to open the doors to Northeastern Illinois University, one of the most affordable universities in the Midwest.
“When we take [the students] to the school, they start relating the people at Northeastern with the people that live in their communities so that just makes that connection that allows them to say ‘Hey, I can do this too.’ So it’s been great,” said Moreno.
Although it may be impossible to reach out to every youth in Chicago, Moreno keeps it as a goal for himself.
“We tend to forget that being a gang member is not something that you’re born with, this is a taught behavior,” he said. “So if we were to start earlier, showing them that their [are] other positive alternatives, that they can do something more, then I think it would change.”
This post is also available in: Spanish