Rick Velasquez-Illinois Champion for Change
Rick VelasquezDirectorYouth Outreach Services
Rick Velasquez has lived in the Chicago area his entire life. Velasquez became involved with Youth Outreach Services (YOS) in the early 1970s as a volunteer. In 1975, he was hired by YOS, fittingly enough, as a street outreach worker, and made serving youth and families his career. He learned the ropes, worked his way up and since 1999 has served as the executive director. In the process, Velasquez is credited with establishing the agency as one of Chicago’s premier youth-focused organizations.
YOS runs programs that serve approximately 3,000 youth in and around Chicago annually. One project, The YOS Evening Reporting Center, an alternative to detention that serves about 170 youth, has produced an unprecedented successful completion rate above 97% every month for more than a year. Velasquez consistently advocates for true engagement with families in the lives of their children and for meaningful collaboration with communities, stressing to his staff that they be “of” the communities they serve, and not just in them.
“Most major initiatives on behalf of youth in Chicago (or Illinois for that matter) have Rick Velasquez’s imprint on them,” said Diane Geraghty, Director, Civitas Child Law Center, Loyola University School of Law. “His ideas and support are invaluable because youth service is not just his job, it is his life mission.”
Velasquez pursues that mission at policy and practice levels statewide. He is a 2008 gubernatorial appointee to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. In 2010, he was appointed by Governor Pat Quinn to the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, where he serves as Chair of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative/Community-Based Alternatives Committee. He is a member of the Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board and has served on the Cook County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Executive Committee. In 2006 the Annie E. Casey Foundation presented him with the Natalie S. Bimel Award for Outstanding Contributions to Juvenile Detention Reform by a Community Leader. In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Collaboration on Youth and the Maryville Academy in DePlaines, Illinois.
“It is his commitment to backing up his vision with action that earns him the respect of nearly all of his collaborators, and has greatly impacted juvenile justice system reform efforts in Cook County and statewide,” said Geraghty. “Rick has been a committed leader of the Cook County Models for Change demonstration site work as well as a key partner in the joint-collaboration among the sites and in the Action Network projects.”
The YOS Models for Change Mental Health Pilot Program has served more than 300 youth since its inception in August 2008, providing comprehensive screening and clinical assessment, linkage to effective community-based services, and family support to youth and families involved in the juvenile justice system. Ninety-five percent of the youth successfully completed the program and avoided re-arrest at follow-up, despite having screened as “high risk” due to issues like substance abuse, mental health concerns, or trauma. Because of this success, the Juvenile Probation Department in Cook County is considering incorporating the YOS Models for Change Mental Health Program Model into multiple detention alternative programs in Cook County.
As one member of a delegation of juvenile justice policy advisors from Africa said after visiting the YOS Evening Reporting Center and meeting Rick: “His passion comes through in all of his words. I think that the key to successful reform—even more than resources—is finding someone like him, who keeps fighting for kids, no matter what, and inspires others to follow him.”