Alumni Service to Society Award: Robert Seabury Boone (GSESP75)

Since founding Young Chicago Authors (YCA) in 1991, Bob Boone has helped thousands of underprivileged youths access their untapped skills in creative writing and personal expression.

Boone has taught everywhere from Germany to Chicago's Cabrini-Green public housing development, always encouraging his students to put their words on the page, regardless of experience, personal style, or topic choice.

YCA began as a weekly writing workshop for qualified high school sophomores. The group of 15 students, accepted from a pool of 100 recommended applicants, would meet on Saturdays in a Wicker Park apartment-turned-headquarters to share their writing and hone their skills through new exercises and lessons. Each group followed a three-year path, at which point the students could receive up to $2,000 toward college tuition.

As demand for YCA programs increased in many communities, the non-profit offered workshops at local schools and agencies. With the help of several philanthropic organizations and individual acts, including Boone's generous gift from his inheritance, the annual budget increased greatly. YCA scheduled in more readings, classes, and workshops, and the Wicker Park headquarters annexed the full building floor to accommodate the influx of students, teachers, and volunteers.

Today, the Saturday Writing Program is still going strong, and YCA as a whole has widened its reach to more than 850 youths per year. Many of the organization's participants come from traditionally underserved groups and from households living at or below the poverty line. Programs are aimed at those who have not had previous access to the resources needed for creative writing. Boone has remained the president and head instructor of the group since its founding. Concurrently, he runs the Glencoe Study Center in the northern suburb, where he teaches test and study skills.

Enthusiasm for education has always been at the heart of Boone's pursuits. After earning his master's degree in English from the Columbia Teacher's College, Boone taught at the Staten Island Academy, the Frankfurt International School, and Highland Park High School and was an ACT instructor at the University of Iowa.

For his tireless work with Young Chicago Authors, as well as for his overall dedication to teaching, he received the title of Chicagoan of the Year in 2002 from Chicago magazine.

The hardest part of his career, he says, has been "convincing people that teaching comes from the inside. It's not a numbers game."

He credits Northwestern with helping him develop the skills to keep the numbers game out of his classes: "[The University] made me a much more creative teacher. I would not have founded Young Chicago Authors without Northwestern."

Boone lives in Glencoe with his wife, Sue. They have three grown children and four grandchildren.