Tiffany Lewis, 2008 John E. Rooney Dynamic Scholar
In 2003 at age 13, Tiffany Lewis joined UCAN’s Young Leadership Development Institute (YLDI). Tiffany and other aspiring young leaders were trained to become change agents through developing community service projects and community outreach events that focused on educating peers on the dangers of gun violence, risky behaviors and unhealthy relationships. Tiffany was active across the city, talking to elected officials, advocating against violence and for the assault rifle ban- even speaking at press conferences on UCAN’s behalf.
As the youngest of five children growing up in a single parent home, Tiffany was often left to fend for herself. Upon learning about YLDI from a friend, she became compelled to join and instantly began to identify with other UCAN youth – feeling empowered by being a part of something so important to her community.
Tiffany at Florida A&M GraduationAs Tiffany made her way through high school at Lane Tech, she began experiencing greater problems at home, causing much unrest in the house and neglect. When conflict with a sibling turned violent, Tiffany left home, seeking shelter from various friends. Despite these difficulties, Tiffany continued to be involved with UCAN, confiding in fellow youth for advice. She also became involved in another UCAN violence prevention program: Hands Without Guns – which aims to reduce violence and the use of handguns, empowering youth to improve the quality of their lives and to lead the way to a safer future. Tiffany says, “My UCAN family acted as a team of support that I got from no one else. All of my peers stuck together and wanted to be successful together, despite our many personal tragedies. It was so meaningful to know that I was not alone and not the only one going through problems at home.”
Graduating from high school with a 3.7 GPA, Tiffany officially moved out of her mother’s house at the age of 18. She began taking classes at Wilbur Wright Community College, also holding a full time job at American Girl Place. Tiffany’s mentors at UCAN were able to help get her into a shelter program and after completing a certain amount of requirements Tiffany was able to receive her own apartment to live in. Chevelle Bailey, former Associate Director of YLDI and Tiffany’s mentor, says that “Tiffany knew those few months in the shelter were going to be difficult but she also knew that this was her only path to living independently and completing her education – once Tiffany set a goal for herself she was careful to make sure she followed the appropriate path to completing that goal.”
“Thanks to UCAN, I began to fully realize my potential and how important getting a good education was to my future success,” says Tiffany.
In 2007, Tiffany was awarded John E. Rooney Dynamic Scholar Award, which provided an educational scholarship for college. Chevelle had helped Tiffany apply to various four year colleges and choose a school that was right for her: Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University. There, Tiffany studied journalism and criminal justice while working part time; she also held an internship with the Tallahassee ABC News local affiliate. During the summer of 2009 she came back to Chicago and worked at UCAN, teaching youth in UCAN’s Learn & Earn Program. Tiffany learned that she had a profound passion for teaching and said she found it “sad to see how many of the youth placed gangs and shooting as their top priorities.” Tiffany taught her teens the importance of character building and problem solving, communicating that, “you are not alone in what you face each day. I am a product of this community too – and I know you can all be a success.” Tiffany Lewis with fellow anchors
Tiffany graduated from Florida A&M in December of 2010, and has since improved her relationship with her family. She says that her difficult childhood “has motivated me to do better, finish school, and really make a life for myself.” Doing just that, Tiffany was recently accepted into Teach for America’s Chicago Corps to teach special education. UCAN is extremely proud of her accomplishments!