Inner-city Chicago youth learning and growing in rural Idaho

May 29, 2013

Writer: Matt Urick

Each summer 10-12 BYU-Idaho students receive the opportunity to attend the Chicago Urban Studies tour. They spend four days in the Chicago inner city observing the living conditions and lifestyles of young men ages 12-15. 

They then fly out to Victor, Idaho, where they spend the next 10 days at a camp and participate in various activities. Grover Wray, director of the program and instructor in the BYU-Idaho Department of Social Work, has been in charge of the program since 2001. 

"The program really lets the boys just be boys," said Wray. "It's a wonderful and eye-opening experience for both the students and the boys."

The program started in the late 1980s when an elder's quorum president and Relief Society president from the Hyde Park Ward in south Chicago noticed they were losing a lot of their youth to the streets. They contacted what was then Ricks College to find out if they could help in some small way. Ever since then the institution has been quietly helping and mentoring these young men.

"The purpose of this program is to help these young men learn life skills," Wray said. "We want them to prepare for the challenges they'll face in the future."

The students create their own mentoring curriculum for the camp in Victor. Wray believes that is part of the reason the program has been such a success. 

"Many of the kids will attend for the four years in which they are able to," Wray said. "And due to the fact that they get to do different things each summer keeps them coming back." He added that the boys never call it boring, and that tells him they're heading in the right direction.

"The biggest thing I hope these boys take away from this experience is that they know they're worth something," Wray said. "I hope they know they're valued. I hope they'll become leaders. I want them to make something of themselves."

Wray added that some of the best moments of this program come years later, after the boys have been out of the camp for some time. These moments include the boys serving full-time missions, getting a college education, and marrying in the temple.

Reggie Radford, a student at BYU-Idaho, is a product of the Chicago Urban Studies tour. "It's absolutely the reason I'm here at college today," Radford said. "To be honest, I would have never known this place even existed if it wasn't for Grover and the camp."

Radford is currently studying communication and is expecting to receive his mission call this month. He added that if his departure date is after August, he's going to volunteer at this year's camp, which begins Aug. 11 and lasts through Aug. 24. The program is partially funded by the Inner City Youth Charitable Foundation and the university.