Community//

Social Impact Heroes: Sandra Abrevaya of Thrive Chicago is helping to connect thousands of out-of-work and out-of-school youth to job opportunities

We need a movement that resources and incentivizes collaboration. We need that movement in the youth sector, in the health sector and every sector in between. We are missing incredible opportunities to accelerate our progress because we don’t share information, work together and align. The way we resource sectors can upend all of that. I had […]


We need a movement that resources and incentivizes collaboration. We need that movement in the youth sector, in the health sector and every sector in between. We are missing incredible opportunities to accelerate our progress because we don’t share information, work together and align. The way we resource sectors can upend all of that.


I had the pleasure to interview Sandra Abrevaya. Sandra is the President and Chief Impact Officer of Thrive Chicago. She is the proud daughter of immigrants and has spent her career in the public sector focused on creating a different reality for young people. Her roles include Associate Communications Director at the White House for President Obama, Executive Director of Urban Alliance Chicago and Press Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After several roles in government and nonprofits, I saw very clearly that the youth sector does not incentivize collaboration and coordination and that dysfunction — which is ultimately hurting our young people — is not being addressed aggressively.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As I was trying to build Thrive from the ground up, I was also listening to a podcast called “StartUp” and the startup founder in that series had a revelation that he needed a business partner. I then recruited Christina Krasov, our Chief Strategy Officer, and the rest is history. You need partners in life.

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

In Chicago there are more than 47,000 out-of-work and out-of-school youth. Thrive Chicago led a working group with public and private partners to design innovative solutions to address this challenge. One of the innovations that emerged from the working group was the idea of launching Reconnection Hubs on the South and West sides of the city. These Reconnection Hubs would bring together multiple nonprofit and government partners to coordinate their services more closely on the ground so that -from the perspective of a young person — it feels like they are dealing with one entity and they don’t have to navigate all of the services on their own. The Hubs are poised to help us dramatically accelerate the rate at which we reconnect young people to jobs and school by leveraging the power of collaboration as a tool for impact.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

Tuesday is a young lady who came to the Reconnection Hub right after its launch in Roseland, based at Phalanx Family Services, unsure of how to navigate housing options, get a job to secure a stable income and navigate the next steps in her education that would lead to a career of purpose.

Her Hub Coach, who essentially served as a navigator, helped her first establish financial stability by partnering with an employer services organization to secure a job at Walgreens. The Hub Coach also helped her navigate needs around housing and related supports that were offered by other organizations in the neighborhood. Her Coach then helped her navigate her interest in pursuing an education in the arts and the best next steps to make that a reality. Tuesday and her Hub Coach have shared that if she wasn’t currently being supported by the Hub, she would not have been able to navigate all the different services and she likely would be unemployed, with limited options for housing, let alone a mapped out plan for her future school and work ambitions.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Here are 3:

  1. Lisa Morrison Butler, as the Commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services in Chicago, is a government leader who is addressing these problems. As the Chair of the Thrive Chicago Opportunity Youth Working Group, she took the time to sit with community and youth leaders and build a shared vision of how we would tackle our existing challenges of out-of-work and out-of-school youth. When youth and community leaders came up with the idea of a Reconnection Hub to more tightly knit together services on the ground, Commissioner Butler funded their idea and it has since become a reality being tested in Roseland and soon in Little Village.
  2. We need more Commissioner Butlers
  3. We need to fund collaboration. Both for the organizations driving the collaboration and the direct service providers engaging in the collaboration. It’s not going to happen on anyone’s magic time.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is kindness, vulnerability, and persistence. We need to be good to each other, open about ourselves and fight until we get it done.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Find women who take care of other women. Then find more of those women. And be one of those women.
  2. Don’t go super cheap on office space. If you have to Saran Wrap the windows in the winter, no one is going to be happy working there.
  3. Relax in the ambiguity. I’ve now helped start three organizations and am getting slightly more comfortable with the ambiguity you swim in at the beginning stages.
  4. Hard things are hard. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t figure it out overnight. Or in one year.
  5. Believe. Some things that seem impossible actually do happen. Sometimes.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need a movement that resources and incentivizes collaboration. We need that movement in the youth sector, in the health sector and every sector in between. We are missing incredible opportunities to accelerate our progress because we don’t share information, work together and align. The way we resource sectors can upend all of that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Brene Brown.

I think anyone in the arena getting their ass kicked gets how this is relevant.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My husband is battling a terminal illness called ALS. If you are someone out in the universe who thinks you can help us solve this disease, let me [email protected] We could use your help.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are @thrivechi on Twitter and Facebook and one day I’ll learn how to do fancier things on social.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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