UTN and Aetna Better Health Partner to Launch Urban Youth ‘Beet’ Program

Urban Transformation Network, spearheaded by President Don Patterson, embarked on a mission to transform abandoned lands into powerful resources. 

From humble beginnings in a small box, the organization’s innovative approach led to the birth of Metro Farms. Today, Metro Farms has evolved into a significant organization that continues to extend helping hands to communities in profoundly impactful ways.

UTN recently formed an influential partnership with the Mayor’s Office and Aetna Better Health of Illinois, birthing the Urban Youth Beet (Beat) Internship Program. This visionary initiative strives to bring Mayor Brandon Johnson’s initiative of employing and engaging Chicago youth to life. 

The UYBI program offers hands-on experiences to approximately 15 participants ages 16-24, allowing them to work on the West Side farm. As highlighted by U.S. Rep Danny Davis, this is very important as “there are approximately 50,000 youth between the ages of 16-24 lacking employment or enrollment in any type of schooling.” 

The Youth Beet Internship Program’s overarching goal is to offer employment, get youth off Chicago streets, inspire continuing education and share a continuous supply of fresh produce to communities where such options are limited. The program offers comprehensive learning from farm cultivation to table consumption, creating an educational and meaningful experience.

Its hands-on approach, filled with practical learning methodology, aims to create programs that consistently engage youth in their endeavors, fostering a passion for success beyond the scope of the internship program.

To commemorate the new partnership, UTN organized a kick-off event on Monday, Oct. 30. Elected officials, community leaders, high school officials, and esteemed partners like Medellin & Associates, Inc. joined in, with appearances from Rep. Davis, Dorothy Brown, and Rushil Desai, the CEO and President of Aetna Better Health of Illinois.

UYBI internships focus on continual education within the agriculture sector, offering insights into various aspects from farming to administrative operations, thus guiding students to informed career choices. This comprehensive exposure aims to inspire curiosity and showcase the diverse avenues for success within the agricultural (and business) field.

Students such as Madison Melendez and Carl Spruill, who have been part of the UYBI program, shared inspiring experiences of traveling to Washington, D.C., where they interacted with leaders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Each said they gained invaluable knowledge beyond the farm, which solidified their decisions to pursue veterinary sciences upon entering college. 

Davis, reflecting on his upbringing on a farm, empathizes with and supports the UYBI program. The shared lessons he learned occurred when he picked cotton as a kid, growing up on a farm and filling his pockets with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Davis said that, even in those times,  he gained an education from those experiences. Davis said that he hopes the same will happen to the youth participants in the UYBI program. He invoked Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All,” stressing the importance of educating and nurturing our children, as they are the future leaders.

Desai, CEO and President of Aetna Better Health of Illinois, underlined the significance of addressing various aspects such as housing, food security, education, and workforce to achieve better health. He emphasized the role of early access to healthcare for children, stating that “70% of the population comprises mothers and children.” As a result, he added that “such initiatives are essential for broadening their horizon from a workforce perspective while focusing on healthcare.” 

Aetna’s commitment extends beyond providing organic food from the farm; it includes partnerships with other vendors, aiming to sustainably bridge the gap for food insecurities and create a healthier future for communities.

Here are more photos from the Urban Youth Beet kick-off event:

Urban Youth Beet kick-off event



Urban Youth Beet Internship Program farm



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