Jerry Weems

We understand the importance of having programs that help kids, young adults and families improve their quality of life and live to their fullest potential. That’s why our mission at Thornton Township Youth and Family Services is to provide a healthy, self-empowering environment with prevention, education, intervention and entertainment programs. We deliver a variety of services to support the needs for our residents.

After School Program

We work with each school district to provide comprehensive programs including:

  • Tutoring/Homework
  • Computer technology education
  • Wellness and nutrition awareness
  • Individual education plan
  • Social development skills
  • Job training and placement possibilities for 16-years-and older

Counseling Services

At no cost to township residents, we offer counseling for individuals and families. We recognize that no program fits everyone so we offer a diversity of services including:

  • Short-term family counseling
  • Short-term individual counseling for adults and youth
  • Short-term marriage and couples counseling
  • Therapeutic groups
  • Evaluations and referrals when appropriate

Crisis Intervention and Response Services

Our Crisis Intervention Staff is available to respond to calls from police departments, schools and hospitals throughout the township 24-hours-a-day. Interventions focus on resolving immediate problems and reunifying families. Our professional and trained Crisis Response team specializes in helping with the emotional needs for those directly and indirectly involved in:

  • Community Disasters
  • Traumatic school and community violence
  • Witnessing violence or trauma
  • Suicide attempts
  • Natural and man-made disasters
  • Police and fire professional debriefing
  • Accidental death/injury
  • Workplace violence

Educational Services

Trained professionals facilitate parenting groups, senior citizen groups and other topical programs.

Youth Services

Boys To Men Mentoring (ages 10-17)
We mentor this group to help boys develop into young men and build up men of strong character and skills.

Youth Dance class (ages 8-17)

This dance program engages male and female students in various dance styles while helping them development good fitness habits, confidence and discipline

Taking Charge of Me

Using a variety of techniques, this program focuses on developing anger management skills and personal insight

Summer Enrichment Program

This program provides an opportunity for 10-13-years-olds to stay active during the summer while enjoying activities that develop cultural awareness

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

Last November, as a part of an advisory referenda question, we asked Thornton Township voters whether the township should have a role in supplementing the educational processes throughout our various communities. Township stakeholders voted over 90% affirmative that we should have such a role. We took this “mandate” from the voters seriously. We took it to mean that voters believe that township leaders should work closely with the various school district educational systems and community-based systems (e.g., park districts, libraries, social service agencies, etc.) within each municipality to provide the best education options possible for our students.

To effectively prepare for this responsibility, Thornton Township requested that Law and Civics Reading and Writing Institute (LCRWI) research/explore the latest scientific evidence on what constitutes a high-quality pre-k to 12th grade STEM afterschool program. STEM is an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. The independent and nonpartisan education think tank was asked to investigate this issue from the perspective of all the children and families in Thornton Township, and to offer recommendations. Also, the research would highlight the STEM-learning and careers realities of underserved and underrepresented children and families in the Southland.

The report offered by the Law and Civics Reading and Writing Institute identified more than 20 birth to 12th grade afterschool and in school STEM quality indicators that should be present in a high-quality STEM program serving all children and families in the Southland. At the top of the list was ensuring that children’s basic need for nutritional food, clean water, sleep, and safety are first being met. Other quality indicators included conducting proactive strategic planning activities with all key stakeholders within each district, providing a strong foundation in early childhood, and offering creative and comprehensive STEM evaluation systems. For underserved children and families of color, noteworthy quality indicators included STEM curricula honoring and respecting children’s history, family and culture. Also, community-responsive and culturally responsive teaching (e.g., role modeling) are essential to inspiring children, young people, and adults to STEM learning and careers. Open-enrollment STEM high schools that provide math, social-emotional, and other supportive STEM learning services, were also reported as important.

Based on these findings, LCRWI recommended that Thornton Township leaders take purposeful steps to ensure all children in the township a high-quality STEM education. It advised stakeholders to begin investing in a robust STEM education infrastructure immediately, that can support learning and careers in all parts of the Southland well into the 21st century. It referred to this kind of investment as a “STEM Marshall Plan” for Thornton Township, which should mainly target economically disinvested municipalities. Officially known as the European Recovery Program, the Marshall plan was an initiative in which our nation invested billions of dollars to rebuild the economies and spirits of Western Europe after World War II. Similarly, the-primary goal of the STEM Marshall Plan should be to rebuild the economies and spirits of people living in the Southland. The research revealed that a robust STEM-based education Marshall Plan is also desperately needed, if the children in the Southland are going to have a fighting chance to successfully compete in a globalized economy, driven by ever-increasing advances in communication and technology. The report found evidence that a well-considered STEM afterschool program can be of tremendous value in jump-starting transformative education and economic innovation in the Southland.
As it relates to matters of equity and access, the report found an alarming number of underserved children of color in the Southland are not being “inspired” to enter the STEM learning and careers pipeline. Given the fact that many citizens in Thornton Township are low-income and low-resourced children and families of color, the report advises leaders in the Southland to make this challenge a matter of urgent top priority. The report also noted that successfully meeting this challenge can also advance the overall quality-of-life for these children and their families, and represents the only clear path to meeting the labor needs of local, regional and national businesses, moving forward. It also identified over 100 business CE0s in the nation who agreed with this assessment as it relates to racial minorities, girls, and women.

The report uncovered research that indicated a quality STEM-based education could be costly, compared to non-STEM education programs. However, it also brought forth testimonies stating that the payoff in academic achievement, character developments, jobs, and scientific innovation are much greater. It also explored how other districts and municipalities throughout the U.S. have financed quality STEM programs. And based on this research, the report recommended several “creative and financially responsible” ways policymakers might wish to consider to launch sustained economic development project of this scale. These recommendations ranged from: • Using IGA’S (Inter-Governmental Agreements) to strengthen jurisdictional likemindedness towards STEM Education. • Using contributions and grants from local business, county, state and federal funding. • Exploring the use of local bonding to propel financing of this type of project.

Strength-based STEM Afterschool Approach

LCRWI proposed its Strength-based Stem Afterschool learning approach as a solid research-based solution to the STEM challenges in the Southland. The approach aligns with the main quality indicators identified for developing a productive STEM afterschool and summer programs, which engage children and youth intellectually, respond to their interests, and connect STEM learning in out-of-school, home, and other settings.

A related exciting feature of LCRWI’s proposed Strength-based STEM Afterschool program is it leverages community resources and partnerships. It is also grounded in supporting children, young people, and adults with the self-sufficiency tools, skills, and resilience they need to engage STEM learning and practices successfully. It is designed to meet the needs of all children and families in the Southland, and particularly racial/ethnic, English Language Learners, girls and women, children with disabilities, males of color disconnected from school and economy, gifted, and other diverse groups.

Thus, this Strength-based STEM Afterschool program is innovatively designed to provide the kind of flexibility required to meet both the unique needs of each district, as well as those needs that require partnership and collaboration.

Why Now?
Particularly given the rapid changes in global education, and the dire social and economic conditions facing many families in the Southland, the report advised Thornton Township leaders to understand the urgency of now in developing and sustaining exciting STEM programs for the children in the Southland. (note: the previously referenced referenda results strongly suggest that Township parents, educators, and other stakeholders clearly understand and feel this urgency.) As discussed in the report, now is the time for Southland leaders with the educational vision to lead the way. At this point in its rich history, the Southland needs visionary leaders of courage ready to support awe-inspiring STEM learning programs. Stem programs that drives economic innovation and development strengthen the bonds of families and listen to the voices of the children in the Southland, yet unborn.

As usual, we welcome your feedback and will even consider posting well-articulated critique in an upcoming Focus edition. Please feel free to send comments on this article to Dr. J.L. Weems, Director of Youth and Family Services at jweems@thorntontwp.com.