Garrett-Evangelical News

160: Don Baker

don bakerDon Baker began his work in 1968 with alienated and disenfranchised youth in Evanston. His ministry was supported for a time by the Evanston cluster of Methodist churches. In 1971, a board chaired by Dr. James Babbitt, a Garrett faculty member, established Youth Organizations Umbrella, Inc., and hired Don as director. Y.O.U. always sought to identify and serve young people on the margins who were overlooked by or resistant to participate in the rich resources of Evanston. Over the years, those included middle-school students at risk of gang involvement, children of non-English-speaking immigrant families, and families whose economic and emotional poverty prevented caring for their children. When Don retired in 2011, Y.O.U. had provided programming for 15,000 Evanston children from third grade through high school. They benefited from after-school programs supporting academic, social, and recreational growth; summer programs providing enrichment and recreation; family services and support including crisis intervention, emergency housing, bilingual staff, and social opportunities; and most important, caring relationships with staff whose professional training and empathy were always directed to the well-being of each child and youth.

Don was considered the "dean" of social service organizations after many years of mentoring and counsel.  As grants from all levels of government (city/county/state/federal) became integral to service development and delivery, he was named convener of a network of over 20 Evanston agencies and schools who worked together on coordinating services and sharing vital information.  As a partner in grant applications with the police department, school system, YMCA, and other agencies, he helped bring millions of dollars to improve the lives of the people of Evanston.

 He has been recognized for his leadership in service organizations and the community of Evanston by groups including the YMCA, NAACP, and Evanston Chamber of Commerce. On Father's Day 2005 he was selected by Family Focus Evanston as one of seven "community fathers" in its first recognition of men who in their person and their work offer young people strength, support, encouragement, and hope for the future.  In 2013 he received the Bishop Jesse R. Dewitt Child Advocacy Award from NIC Voices for Children.

Though Y.O.U. is a secular organization, Don always considered his work a ministry to "the least of these."  His vision has been based in his own experience of God's grace and his belief in the primacy of God's love.  It is faith in God's plenteous creation, which can provide for all.  He seeks to provide a place of healing for those who are sick in heart and bruised by the circumstances of their lives; a place where the poor and excluded can be equipped for a fulfilled and productive life; where justice is done, one young life at a time; and where the rich can give with the assurance that their gifts will bear fruit. 

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