Tori Vazquez, Clinical Services & Alumni Coordinator On Safety Nets and the Lumity Network

As a social worker, Tori Vazquez (they/them) knows the importance of safety nets for young people. “People blossom under guidance and attention—and young people respond very visibly to how people treat them. Science research is clear that young people’s brains are not fully developed until age 25, yet our larger system has no grace and no room for mistakes. Too many young people don’t have a safety net to learn from their mistakes.”

Tori’s role at Lumity is to build those safety nets for our participants—not only to catch them but to help them learn to catch themselves and get back up. Their approach is proactive and centers on helping youth build on their strengths, or what is often referred to as an “asset-based approach” to youth development.  This plays out in Lumity’s new social-emotional learning curriculum that Tori created, which includes tools youth can use in their daily lives well beyond our program, such as meditation, yoga, and practicing mindfulness. Strategies that the Lumity team is benefiting from also!

While developing individual youth skills is critically important, Tori is also helping Lumity young adults in our STEMWorks program navigate systemic barriers to STEM-related employment. A quality STEM-related job asks a lot of young adults beyond skill and social-emotional competency. They need secure housing, reliable transportation, bank accounts, uniforms, and more to be successful in their new jobs—all those “start-up” factors (and costs) that family and friends sometimes can’t provide.  

As Tori explains, “There are so many barriers to youth employment in Chicago, particularly this past year, that we help young people work through. For example, supporting our participants in the Southside navigate long commutes to their jobs during the pandemic has been a critical area of focus for us.” 

Its systemic challenges like these Lumity is taking on with Tori’s help through our Lumity STEM Network. The Network seeks to be a new system that supports and propels young Chicagoans towards STEM roles, a replacement for systems that present barriers to youth employment. Lumity’s alumni are key to our Network. As Tori explains, “We build relationships with STEMWorks participants and we don’t put an end date on relationships. They can come back to us for guidance, refer us to their friends and family members, connect with each other as professionals—and, of course, volunteer with us.  Their experience is so valuable; they have so much to offer.”