Karen Jarczyk reflects on four decades of work with Naperville’s 360 Youth Services

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“I can definitely see her dedication and the passion she has for the work she does, giving back to the community and helping those who need it,” said 360 Youth Services’ Director of Clinical Services Jaclyn Laporte.

“She seems like almost angelic, she’s so sweet, so warm, and makes everybody feel comfortable,” said Emily Walgren, Power of Choice Middle School Coordinator at 360 Youth Services.

“If Karen can do it, the rest of us can,” said 360 Youth Services’ Development Director Brea Hayes.

Karen Jarczyk has spent her entire career at Naperville’s 360 Youth Services. She’ll be retiring from her role as the nonprofit’s prevention director at the end of March.

“I’m leaving with this amazing gift that we have of what we have all created,” said Jarczyk. “I’m intensely proud of 360 (Youth Services) and I feel good about having spent a big chunk of my life here.”

Jarczyck joins 360 Youth Services

360 Youth Services was founded in 1971 under the name “Naperville Community Outreach.” The nonprofit’s mission has evolved over time, and is now focused on providing life-changing services to youth in Naperville and the surrounding areas through substance-use prevention education, housing, and counseling.

Jarczyk joined the nonprofit in 1983 as a part-time employee hired to do crisis intervention training.

“Early on, I was asked to go to a community meeting that was related to substance-use prevention and how we could work together as a community to address the issue,” said Jarczyk. “That’s when everything prevention just kind of kicked off for me. The community was in this beautiful place of really wanting to work together, school, community partners, (and) police. And as a result, things just began to kind of bloom, and I was very fortunate to be a part of that.”

Jarczyk said the reason why a career in prevention suited her so well was because she was allowed the opportunity to change the course of young people’s lives for the better.

“What I love about prevention and I think one of the things that made it so sustainable for me to be here all these years is because you are working on the early end, hopefully helping young people before they’ve gotten into a situation where things are more out of control,” said Jarczyk.

Operation Snowball and other prevention campaigns from 360 Youth Services

One of Jarczyk’s biggest contributions to the organization was founding the Naperville chapter of Operation Snowball in 1985. The teen-led, adult-supported weekend retreat helps high school students improve their self-confidence and decision-making skills, especially regarding drugs and alcohol.

Today, there are roughly 150 Snowball chapters in Illinois.

“I think what Snowball allowed us to do as a community and as an organization is to really see how we could work together on behalf of kids,” said Jarczyk.

In the last 39 years, over 10,000 Naperville School District 203 and Indian Prairie School District 204 high schoolers have attended the program – one being Emily Walgren.

“It changed my life in a lot of different ways,” said Walgren. “And I felt like it showed me that was really what I wanted to do in my job as well. I knew I wanted to work with teenagers, work with young people.”

Upon graduating from college, Walgren started working for 360 Youth Services as its Power of Choice Middle School Coordinator. She’s thankful for the impact Jarczyk has had on her personal life and career.

“Karen approaches every interaction that she has with someone in a very genuine way,” said Walgren. “I feel fortunate that my paths crossed with Karen and that I got the opportunity to learn so much from her.”

Along with Snowball, Jarczyk has spearheaded a plethora of prevention campaigns.

“The Power of Choice communication campaign was a huge one that started about 20 years ago,” said Jarczyk. “The DuPage LGBTQ network of professionals supporting LGBTQ. The most recent project that’s a larger one is the Community Alliance for Prevention, which started in 2013 and has brought federal funding to our community.”

Jarczyk helps steer the ship during organizational changes

Though 360’s unwavering support for local teens hasn’t faltered, the nonprofit has shuffled through a series of leaders during its time in Naperville. 

Ron Hume served as the organization’s Executive Director from 2006 to 2015, and called Jarczyk “the consistent force.”

“She just brings a sense of calmness and survivability to the organization,” said Hume. “She’s like the current that’s underneath the river. When you look at a river, it might be calm, it might be rough, it might be frozen. But Karen was that current that underneath everything, driving it and staying steady and true.”

Scot Thurman was appointed 360 Youth Services’ Executive Director in July 2022. He’s thankful for Karen’s help during his two years as the organization’s leader.

“I always joke with her because I say, ‘You’re not going anywhere,’” said Thurman. “She’ll always be a friend and she’ll always be around. But I understand when you need to retire for yourself, she’s put in a lot of good work.”

Matt Cassity will replace Jarczyk as the nonprofit’s prevention director when she retires. He’s grateful for the solid foundation she has built for 360.

“Karen, quite honestly, has shaped this agency probably more than anybody in its history in terms of making sure we’re living out our values and doing the best we can to support our community in the work that we’re doing,” said Cassity.

Though Jarczyk is sad to leave her role at 360 Youth Services after all her years, she feels things are “poised beautifully” for the future of the organization.

“We all have to work for a living and it’s so nice when you get to work with good people that get that we can do hard things, but still have a good time,” said Jarczyk. “And that’s powerful because it goes beyond what we’re doing and it ties us together in a bigger way, and it bonds us as people.”

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