History and Development
Elgin Community College and the Youth Leadership Academy are committed to the belief that anyone wanting to improve their life conditions through education or training should be given that opportunity.
In 1996 a group of concerned citizens in cooperation with Elgin Community College identified a need in the communities it serves to have quality, innovative programming for youth showing leadership potential but are in need of support systems in order to gain better direction and to realize success.
Many of today's youth face problems not imagined a few short years ago. A previous generation's normal adolescent fears of being shy, awkward or unpopular have been replaced by this generation's very real fears of falling prey to drugs, gangs or random acts of violence. It is clear that these problems are serious and are a large concern in the communities that Elgin Community College serves.
While these problems exist to one degree or another in all communities, they are most prevalent in low-income neighborhoods. The harsh realities of the street, a lack of positive role models, and a lack of alternatives significantly increase the likelihood that these at risk youth will be unable to escape a life of poverty and crime.
Increasing numbers of economically-deprived youngsters are turning to gangs for support and to drugs and violence as a way of life. The financial cost to society for every individual who remains in poverty or turns to crime is staggering. Research indicates that families on welfare have little hope of ever becoming tax-paying citizens. The absurdity of the situation is best described by data which shows that it costs substantially more to incarcerate people than to send them to the nation's finest colleges and universities.
Elgin Community College shares a concern with the citizens and employers in District 509 about the negative impact these young people would release within the community.Therefore, the Board of Trustees, the President, the staff and District 509 community volunteers accepted the position of being a major catalyst for change - and established the Youth Leadership Academy.
The Youth Leadership Academy was founded to provide early intervention and constructive alternatives for these at-risk young youth and their families in high-risk neighborhoods. The project was launched in January 1996, and the first YLA cadet class was inducted in September 1996. In 2000, YLA became a separate 501(c)(3) non profit organization.