Teens from Austin and Oak Park will get a chance to learn about the history of the two communities that get to know each other during the Aug. 14 Historical Scavenger Hunt.

Now in its second year, the event is organized by YourPassion1st, an Oak Park-based nonprofit that helps teens become entrepreneurs in creative, sports and culinary fields. 

Founder Chris Thomas said that he originally came up with the idea during the racial justice protests that erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020. He said he wanted to do something that would bridge the divides between the two communities and allow teens from Austin and Oak Park to get to know each other. 

This year, the scavenger hunt will kick off at 9 a.m. in front of Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St., and last until 3 p.m. The objects will be scattered throughout Austin and Oak Park, and teens will use bicycles to get from one spot to the next. Thomas said that they were still putting together the details, but he expects to have everything ironed out in time for the event. 

Thomas explained that YourPassion1st helps young entrepreneurs through workshops, events and holding contests where teens create their pitches individually and as a group. According to data the nonprofit provided, last year 57 percent of the participants leveraged the nonprofit to earn paid work either during or after the program’s completion. 

In addition to Chicago teens, the nonprofit also recruited teens from Brazil and South Africa to participate in the scavenger hunt by using virtual reality apps.

“Really, it was a community-bridging event, a chance for young adults in both communities to meet each other, ride around on the bikes and interact with each other and work together to win a prize,” Thomas said. 

He said that the event went so well last year that he wants to do it again this year. He said that it’s important for youth to learn the history of the area in order to give them a better understanding of their present. The event also ties into YourPassion1st’s mission, because it allows youth to practice networking and make connections, he explained. 

Like last year, the scavenger hunt will highlight “certain people, certain houses” in both communities, as well as historical events. Thomas admitted that, as of Aug. 5, he was still in the process of putting together the clues and objects the teens will be hunting for. 

He said that he’s been consulting with the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, the Oak Park Public Library and Austin residents. Participants will be able to use the Divvy bikes provided on site to get around town and, if all goes accordion go to plans that are still being worked out, the nonprofit may raffle off free bikes to the young people. 

As with other events YourPassion1st is organizing this year, they will take COVID-19 precautions based on city recommendations. 

“We will not require masks, but we will have masks available there and we will ask people to do what they’re comfortable with,” he said. 

Thomas said he’s glad to be doing his part for the youth and the community.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m honored and I’m humbled to do what I love, which is really helping to change the community and bring peace.” 

For the most up-to-date information about the Historical Scavenger Hunt, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/304003611487908/

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...