Written by Merita Bushi.

As a Mikva staffer, one of my favorite things about the organization is our unique process of summer recruitment. It is a process unlike anything I’ve seen before because it embodies the values of our work so beautifully. Youth voice and expertise directly shapes the face of our new councils. That’s our secret sauce. It is the foundation upon which we build our high quality youth programming and the start of authentic civic engagement experiences for our youth.

The Selection Process

At Mikva, one of the tools we use to guide our work is the Youth Ladder of Participation to ensure we are valuing youth voice and expertise in the most authentic way. We always strive to land somewhere between rung 6 and 8, where youth are truly engaged in decision-making. Recruitment for our summer programs is no different.

Screenshot 2016-05-04 13.28.50On the day of an interview, the role of Mikva staff is purely logistical: to help applicants fill out a name tag, check their name off our list, and fill out a One Summer Chicago application. Then we hand them off to our youth.

summer hiring 2Either individually or in pairs, they ask applicants interview questions. While we offer some ideas to our youth, it is up to them to pick what questions they ask. The only thing that they report back to Mikva staff is a summary that includes positives and deltas of the applicant and a score 1 through 5.

The beauty of this process is not only in the autonomy we give young people. It is in the sigh of relief when an applicant sits across the table with someone their age rather than a staff member or another stakeholder. It is in the natural conversation that flows when our youth can connect in ways we as staff members would not be able to, allowing us not only to accept youth that would be a great fit for our summer programs but also match them to a council that best fits their personality. Finally, as I walked around to take pictures for this blog post, I heard on many occasions applicants asking our current youth about their work and it was yet another opportunity for youth to explain with pride their accomplishments.

The Numbers

The other part of our summer recruitment process that I love is that it is a great reason for us to re-connect with various stakeholders from teachers to elected officials to community based organizations. We rely heavily on our partners to get the word out about our programs and have their youth apply. Therefore, our process is only successful if we fully engage all of our partners and stakeholders.

Let’s start with some numbers.

In one month (3/22-4/22), we saw 983 unique applications come through.


Screenshot 2016-05-04 13.24.28Our largest age demographic is 11th graders, closely followed by 10th and 12th graders. We try to make sure we have balanced councils in terms of age so that youth are able to engage whether this is their first time doing this type of program or whether they are veterans.

Screenshot 2016-05-05 09.54.12




The largest group of applicants in our pool was Black youth at 60% followed by Latino/a youth at 25%.


We try to make sure gender is as balanced as possible. This is how our applicant pool looked by gender:

Female 61.8%
Male 36.1%
Trans 0.5%
Did not report 1.6%

Screenshot 2016-05-04 13.24.57



Most of our applicants, 79% of them, came from CPS. Of CPS applicants, half came from neighborhood schools.




Finally, we tried to make sure we had geographical diversity. To measure this, I used schools as a proxy.

The five CPS networks that the most applicants came from were (in order of greatest number of applications to lowest):

Network Community Areas in District
6 Armour Square, Loop, Near North Side, Near South Side, Near West Side, West Town
9 Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Washington Park, Woodlawn
8 Archer Heights, Brighton Park, Gage Park, New City, West Elsdon
11 Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Englewood, Washington Heights, West Englewood
5 East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, West Garfield Park, West Town


The Take-Away

We had 983 applications for just 175 slots. The sheer numbers here tell us the story of youth employment in the city of Chicago and the need for more jobs. These numbers are also a positive reinforcement for us here. They dispel the myth that youth are apathetic and unengaged and show us that they do like being part of Mikva Challenge and are eager and enthusiastic to participate in civic life. 

summer hiring 3

summer hiring 1







This blogpost was written by our College Transitions and Center for Action Civics Coordinator, Merita Bushi.