With years of experience providing direct service to youth and families before moving into an executive role, UCAN CEO Zack Schrantz has a wide breadth of experience. His personal experiences have served him well in a professional role, and his actions demonstrate a commitment to diversity. Zack’s passion for helping underserved youth motivates him daily.
When did you first start at UCAN and what drove you to want to work here?
After graduating from college I interviewed with a number of technology companies but quickly realized that was not what I wanted to do. I participated in a volunteer service program in California where I spent a year living in a community and working in their after school center. I moved back to the Midwest and settled in Chicago. I landed an interview (with UCAN) and was hired as a foster care worker. I had little to no experience but I was willing to learn and try.
Since coming to UCAN, have your views on issues impacting youth in Chicago and youth in care changed?
When I came here at 22, I knew absolutely nothing about youth in Chicago or youth in the child welfare system. (Laughing) I hope I did not make too many mistakes early on. I don’t know if my views have changed but I have grown in my awareness
and understanding of the importance of the work that we are doing.
Have any specific moments stood out?
Seeing the youth leaders year after year at the Youth Leadership Awards Dinner really demonstrates how talented they are and helps to motivate me in the work that we do.
Friday morning basketball in the gym at UCAN’s Diermeier Therapeutic Youth Home has become popular. Zack, along with other staff members, plays with young men from the community.
How did the Friday morning basketball begin?
It started because we had a bunch of staff that wanted to play basketball. As our workforce aged and moved on, it ended up being fewer staff and a group of young people. With our move to North Lawndale the number has grown. I think we will be looking to continue it and explore ways that we can add more recreation and utilize the assets and resources that we have
on this campus for a safe and fun place for young people to come.
What do you enjoy most about working with UCAN staff?
I enjoy seeing their incredible talent, the range of this talent, and the commitment and passion that the employees demonstrate.
What is your motivation for coming to work every day even through difficult times?
There are days and even weeks that are difficult but at the end of the day I know we are making a difference in the lives of young people and families. I know I am surrounded by many like-minded and caring people.
What is your vision for UCAN’s future?
My vision is that we continue to develop more ways to impact a larger number of young people and families, first in North Lawndale. It’s important to figure out how we can help make our community a better place. This will likely involve a greater emphasis on education, workforce development and helping young people connect with individuals who can help them be
happy and successful.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I really appreciate the learning I’ve been able to do around the topics of diversity and inclusion; and understanding the impacts of racism and other forms of discrimination and the role we can play in combating those things. My daughter is
studying African-American studies and is really passionate about the topic and that is the heart of many of our dinner table conversations. As the father to a young African- American male, these are issues that are important to me and my family. I also think my experience as a foster parent and my wife’s work in the field has given me more insight on how we should be
supporting our foster parents. That is a critical piece of the puzzle. My personal and professional lives are very much in sync.