Youth & Opportunity United Evanston, an organization that hosts after-school and summer learning programs, has plenty of students with a passion for sports.

But creating opportunities to play for more than 1,400 participants across Evanston hasn’t always been easy for Y.O.U. Program Manager Michelle Hinojosa.

Enter, TrueNU.

“I connected with Jacob [Schmidt] and TrueNU because we’re always looking for someone who can come in and play sports with our kids,” she said. “Finding out that working with these student-athletes would come at no cost to us was also huge. We knew we had to take advantage of a partnership.”

When Northwestern’s first NIL collective launched in 2022, a focus on supporting charitable and non-profit organizations made TrueNU a natural partner for Y.O.U.

The organization has served youth in Evanston for more than 50 years, with services that also include clinical counseling, street outreach, and family engagement.

A grant in 2023 even allowed Y.O.U. to update their MakerSpace, a center where students tackle design projects with everything from a laser cutter to 3D printer.

CEO Craig Lynch has continued to expand Y.O.U.’s mission and reach, including a unique partnership with TrueNU.

“Y.O.U.’s partnership with TrueNU has been really amazing for our youth,” Lynch said. “Having access to student-athletes who are engaging and willing to share their stories and journey is definitely inspiring. We continue to develop new ways to grow and leverage the partnership which deepens the engagement for our youth and staff.”

On a recent TrueNU visit, members of the Northwestern volleyball team spoke to Y.O.U. students and shared stories about how they became Big Ten student-athletes.

“A lot of the guys in our program who didn’t watch volleyball were a little skeptical,” Hinojosa said. “But then we took them to the park to play basketball and they were like ‘Actually, those girls were pretty cool.’ And now they’re already asking me when they can come back.”

Y.O.U. has hosted Northwestern student-athletes at nearly all of their events since partnering with TrueNU. And according to Hinojosa, the Wildcats have been popular guests.

When Y.O.U program managers submit their top choices for community partners each year, Northwestern student-athletes have been at the top of the list.

A typical day with TrueNU could include a clinic with member of the Northwestern Football team or a scrimmage with Northwestern Basketball student-athletes.

Hinojosa, who works primarily with Y.O.U. students in high school, said she tries to include time for both play and for student-athletes to talk about their journey.

“It’s important for Y.O.U. students to realize that all the student-athletes they meet took a different path to Northwestern,” she said.

For younger students, the impact of a visit from TrueNU has been just as powerful.

“It’s about meeting a diverse group of students from TrueNU and seeing a range of different sports,” Hinojosa said. “But it’s also the way the student-athletes take the time to learn their names, what grade they’re in and how everything is going. Kids love talking about themselves and meeting someone who wants to hear about them.”

Lynch said he hopes the impact of the partnership has been a two-way street.

“I believe that the student-athletes have been enriched by the opportunity to work with our youth and give back to their community,” he said. “I look forward to our continued partnership with TrueNU.”