Scott Lang, former UCAN client
In 2009, Scott Lang started his new career as Vice Consul at the U.S. Consulate General in Montreal, Canada, where he interviews intending U.S. immigrants. He joined the State Department because he wanted to be a part of the push for peace. Scott has been working to achieve peace and to help those traumatized by war from many angles since the early 1990s, something that is especially important to him due to the fact that he has experienced trauma himself.
As a high school sophomore in 1987 he “rebecame” a ward of the state, Scott explains. As a baby he’d been a ward but was quickly adopted. Unfortunately that situation didn’t work out, and at the age of 15, he was removed from his household by the Department of Children & Family Services and brought to UCAN’s Therapeutic Youth Home. The opportunity to live at UCAN (the “Cadillac of kids’ homes,” per Scott) was particularly important to him, for it meant that he could continue to attend nearby Lane Tech High School and not have that “ripped away as well.”
Similar to most 15 year old boys, Scott was in the process of developing his sense of identity and figuring out who he was as a person. Having been removed from where he grew up and thrown into a residential environment made this even more difficult for him – he had to develop completely new coping skills and to understand a new system of living. Being the only non-African-American on the dorm added a further challenge, which wound up becoming an asset: Scott also believes that UCAN is where he started to develop the diplomatic skills that he’s translated into his international career.
Scott LangAnd at this time, Scott decided to become a vegetarian. President & CEO Tom Vanden Berk remembers this with a smile, for he supported Scott’s dietary wishes while some staff had been concerned about Scott’s choice.
Not only did Scott get the nutrition he needed (he remains an ethical vegan and PETA supporter), but he also received the mentoring and guidance he needed to help heal from his trauma. Thinking back on his time at UCAN, Scott says that the organization acted as “scaffolding which a young person is wrapped into, which then gives the youth an opportunity to build himself back up.” One person in particular he credits for helping him is UCAN’s Father Thomas Munson, who amongst other things tutored him in French, a language Scott uses daily in his State Department role.
“Being a teen is tough, and I constantly thought about how to avoid failing the way everyone expected me to fail,” said Scott. “UCAN didn’t think that way, but as a ward, you get the feeling that everyone thinks that. What got me through it all was the knowledge that I couldn’t let myself down.”
After subsequent group home and foster home placements, Scott emancipated from the child welfare system in 1991 at the age of 20 and moved to Paris, France. He’d been accepted at the American University of Paris, but unfortunately couldn’t attend because he lacked the required financial documents from his “parents” (Scott has since been reunited with his birth mother). After working in several jobs in Paris, Scott returned to the U.S. and started working with refugees through the NGO World Relief. In 1996 Scott was assigned to monitor the first post-war election in Bosnia, followed by others in Kosovo, Montenegro and Russia.
He realized that the elections weren’t helping these countries to build peace but conversely were legitimizing oligarchs, so Scott decided to contribute in a positive way. In 1999, Scott founded a non-governmental organization called The Post-Conflict Organization to develop youth leaders from the Balkans after the war. He sought help from a non-profit lawyer in Chicago who turned out to be Kathryn Vanden Berk, wife of UCAN’s Tom Vanden Berk. After making the connection, Scott developed a lifelong personal relationship with Tom and Kathryn.
“Tom is the embodiment of the philosophy of UCAN,” Scott says. “He is committed to kids, to ridding the streets of guns, to helping pregnant, lesbian and gay teens. He doesn’t try to change kids, but respects who they are and helps them to realize their dreams.”
Scot Lang with his familyTom Vanden Berk says, “Scott is an outstanding example of the validity of our vision, Youth who have suffered trauma can become our future leaders.” Scott’s impressive resume includes being selected as a Rotary World Peace Fellow at the University of Bradford in England, where he earned a Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution. His career to date has also included policy analysis with the Democratization Policy Council in Sarajevo, programming cultural festivals at the Chicago Cultural Center, leading international projects for Northwestern University, and with his wife Dijana, founding an animal welfare organization called Animal Friends in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He married Dijana in October 2008, and they have two handsome six month old boys, Alex and Luka. Dijana is originally from Sarajevo, and was just naturalized as an American citizen this month.
“When you’ve been on the bottom, you realize what it feels like to be looked down upon,” Scott says. Paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi, Scott says, “a society is judged by how its weakest are treated, and the weakest can become tomorrow’s leaders. They have strength and fortitude that is valuable to us all.”