After gun violence in Chicago stole her grandson from her grip just days after his 18th birthday, Crystal Dyer knew she must do everything in her power to keep others from such unbearable grief. Soon after, she set her sights on Chicago’s Austin neighborhood just steps from where her grandson Devin was killed and set up shop.
In 2015, Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures, Inc. (CAYTA), was born out of a grandmother’s grief. Today, the organization is thriving, reaching at-risk children, youth, and young adults through a variety of programs aimed at showing them a world outside their neighborhood, a world many have never seen.
“After I lost my grandson to gun violence in Chicago, I vowed to do everything within my power to ensure no other family experiences such a tragedy. Through CAYTA, we can get our youth off the streets and show them the world on an international stage,” says Crystal Dyer, Founder, and CEO of Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures, Inc.
Why travel? That was an easy decision for Dyer. An accredited and Certified Travel Advisor (CTA), she opened the first African-American-owned travel agency in Chicago Austin’s community where she also resides. Every year, she takes youth and young adults aged 14-23 on a genealogy journey through their family’s roots at the city’s 15th police district. The big payoff, a chance to travel to Ghana, Africa, where their ancestors once lived. This year’s trip is set for July 30th through August 11th.
In addition to CAYTA’s popular genealogy program, the nonprofit also runs a Teen Reach Afterschool Program. The program is offered six days a week and allows youth aged 11-17 to receive help with their studies in a safe environment at Dyer’s travel agency, Gone Again Travel & Tours.
For those looking for job training, CAYTA along with Choose Chicago offers workforce training for youth interested in its’ tour guide program which will also be teaming up with the Obama Presidential Library once it’s complete. In addition, a community clean campaign offers stipends to youth who embody pride and teamwork while working to reduce crime in their neighborhood.
“Our goal through the workforce training program is to show kids that there are other ways of making money instead of selling drugs,” adds Dyer. “The payoff for me? The success stories. One young man came to me and said, ‘Ms. Crystal, my whole family was selling drives but now I am driving a bus for the city, thanks to you.’”
For more information about CAYTA, visit their website.
Photo by DALL·E