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Northwestern University

Shining the Way to a Brighter Future

Precious Wright ’08 Draws on Her Own Past to Empower Young Women at Risk

Precious Wright (left) with client Elise Cusick, who is now working as a security officer

Precious Wright (left) with client Elise Cusick, who is now working as a security officer

Precious Wright ’08 knows firsthand the challenges facing young people—especially those without financial resources and family support—as they try to make their way in a world that often seems rigged against them. That’s why Wright has worked tirelessly to help disadvantaged Evanston residents. She spent three years supporting small local businesses, including launching and managing a farmers’ market on Evanston’s West Side. Today, she helps young women find and keep jobs through the Women Investing in Learning and Livelihoods program at the Youth Job Center in Evanston. For her ongoing efforts, the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore honored Wright with the 2011 Lorraine H. Morton Young Woman of Promise Award.

In every young woman Wright counsels, she sees part of herself, and not simply because she is the same age as some of her clients. Born on Chicago’s West Side, Wright was still an infant when her parents gave her to neighbors to raise, and only 11 when she was handed over to the Department of Children and Family Services.

When she arrived at Northwestern, Wright was determined to become a doctor and majored in biology. By junior year, however, she had switched to psychology. “I hate saying that, because I know people think, ‘Oh that’s typical, she couldn’t hack it, everyone switches over to psych.’ But the truth is, premed didn’t excite me. I like the social side of psychology. I realized my passion was to work with at-risk youth at a grass-roots level.”

For guidance in forging a career in social justice, Wright joined the Psychology Resources and Information Supporting Minorities mentoring group, led by former assistant professor of psychology Catherine Emily Durbin. Wright also worked with Durbin on a study of temperamental risk for depression and anxiety in young children. “Precious was unfailingly warm and caring with families in our studies, diligent in conducting all assessments in a systematic manner, and was a delight to collaborate with,” Durbin recalls.

Eventually, Northwestern’s Public Interest Program helped Wright land a one-year fellowship with the Evanston Community Development Corporation, which became a permanent job that propelled her to her current position. “We serve as a conduit between our clients and employers to make sure our clients are successful,” she says. “Our goal is to fix problems before they turn into termination, so we do a lot of job counseling and development.”

Wright says she has a special connection with the young women she advises. “They trust me. I give them my cell phone number and tell them to call me when things get really tough.”

She finds joy in assuring them that no matter how bleak the present seems, a brighter future lies around the corner. “How many people can say they wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get to work? I love getting to help these young people, and we have a lot of success stories.”

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