Willie Tunstall believes children are the future.
And it’s not just a cliché. He has made it his life’s mission to make sure that teens – especially low-income youth – learn job skills and how to be a part of their community at large.
“I believe it is my God-given talent to work with kids,” Tunstall said.
The Pingree Grove resident said he realized his love for working with youth when he was in his 20s and had a job at a summer camp.
He then spent 14 years working with PLCCA in Maywood, which serves low-income residents in Cook County by promoting community development with education and job training. While there, Tunstall led after-school work readiness programs and program curriculum.
Tunstall’s next stint was as a lab manager.
“I loved learning how to manage people,” he said.
But Tunstall felt a pull to do something different.
“In 2018, I got a life coach to find out what I really enjoyed. And it turned out I really wanted to work with youth,” he said. “I am faith-based, so I prayed a lot about what the next step in my journey should be.”
So Tunstall took all of his various work experiences and, in 2019, started the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Tailoring Youth to Succeed.
“I love waking up every day and loving what I am doing,” he said. “I have a real connection to youth.”
He works to mentor youth with job readiness programs, partnering with schools and businesses to offer teens opportunities to build their life skills and reach their full potential.
Most important, Tunstall wants young people to feel supported.
“There are a lot of paths these kids can take after high school,” he said “It doesn’t have to just be college. I mentor them and help them navigate that space.”
He does that with his workforce readiness program.
“Kids today don’t communicate very well,” Tunstall said. “They don’t know how to express themselves. I asked them, ‘What does your perfect summer look like,’ and many say jobs. They want to make their own money.”
So Tunstall starts in the spring with workshops for the kids that teach communication, interpersonal skills and problem-solving. The goal is to instill employable skills for future job security.
Tailoring Youth to Succeed has community partners, one of which is Brookfield Zoo, which hires a number of kids for the summers. Tunstall prepares the kids for the job fair and interviews and continues to coach them throughout the summer if they need help.
“We teach them how to read their paycheck and how to ask for a day off,” he said “Kids today like to text everything, but you can’t just text your boss the day before you need a day off. You have to email them with notice.”
Tunstall aims to reach out to other community partners, such as restaurants, so kids can learn different aspects of the business and have more mentors.
“We are all rolling in the same place,” he said. “Teens need a lot more programs, not just one. Experiences are important to our organization.”
And that includes volunteering at a local church. Tailoring Youth to Succeed has been helping at First Congregational Church of Dundee’s Hilltop Community Suppers on the second Friday of the month for the past three years.
“Volunteering is important,” Tunstall said. “Teens are selfish. Here they see that others don’t have what they have.”
He also thinks it’s important that the kids give back to their own community.
“This is not just a one-and-done,” Tunstall said. “We develop relationships.”
That means the kids have a chance to chat with the older members of the congregation. It enhances their interpersonal skills and gives them an opportunity to interact with someone they normally wouldn’t talk to.
Tunstall said they also volunteer at community food banks.
“I always tell the kids to understand they are representing something other than just themselves,” Tunstall said, adding that includes their parents, school and community.
Tunstall works mainly with youth in Carpentersville and Elgin, but he’s in the process of building a partnership with Community School District 300 in Algonquin and hopes to add Elgin Area School District U-46 in the future.
I love waking up every day and loving what I am doing. I have a real connection to youth.”— Willie Tunstall
He is always looking for community partners to help his organization, as well as monetary donations. Right now, Tailoring Youth to Succeed is in the middle of its giving campaign, hoping to raise $5,000 for its programs.
“Next, we will want to double that,” Tunstall said. “We are looking for dream donors who can commit to $50 a month for one year to help move our community youth forward.”
To make a donation, visit tyslife.org/donate.
He also is looking for a grant writer for 2024 to connect with more donors.
Currently, there are 45 teens Tunstall mentors. They meet at local community centers to take part in his programs, where he tries to create the mindset that they can do anything they put their mind to.
“Youth is our future,” Tunstall said. “If we all get involved, kids can go out into the real world and be a success.”