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Record year for youth violence in Chicago

Wed, Jul 25, 2012

It has been a record year for youth violence in Chicago. According to the Chicago Police Department, there have been 250 homicides in 2012 compared to 182 recorded during the same time period in 2011. The sharpest increase took place among victims between 20 and 30 years of age.

The cycle of youth violence is a concept that psychiatrists and medical professionals are still trying to comprehend. Research has shown that in many cases, youth violence begins in the home before it does in the community. When a child is born into a family of dysfunction, substance abuse and violence, his or her risk of perpetuating similar behavior is heightened. If violence occurs in the child’s community, the risk becomes even greater. To curb the early stages of the cycle, non-profit organizations within the city have developed programs that foster positive growth and development for children, adolescents, and their parents.

Journalists were introduced to 30 organizations dealing with youth violence in Chicago during a June 28 forum at Columbia College sponsored by Community Media Workshop.

“Kids have no control over where they grow up,” said Rob Castaneda, executive director of Beyond the Ball, a non-profit geared towards teaching young people important life skills through the game of basketball. “Sport is an amazing vehicle” when it comes to turning troubled neighborhoods into thriving communities. Thanks to the belief, dedication, and hard work of Castaneda and his wife, Amy, what began as a small, after-school activity to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble is now a popular program called Project Play. The program, through its recreational activities for kids and parents and its strong emphasis on positive reinforcement, has instilled a sense of pride and a desire for change among the residents of a community located between two rival street gangs.

Claretian Associates has also taken on the challenge of building a sense of community pride in South Side neighborhoods. With a more holistic approach to healing young people exposed to violence, this non-profit’s New Communities Program (NCP) has enabled high schools to view and discuss local artist Roman Villarreal’s latest work, The Death of Innocence. Carved from ala-baster, the sculpture is a powerful depiction of a mother embracing her child after a violent occurrence. Students are asked to consider the message of the sculpture, and to take a hard look at the lifestyle they are leading.

The NCP also provides bus tours for students. “We’ve taught our youth tourism in order to teach pride in our community,” said Jacqueline Samuel, director of the New Communities Program. “Once they learn about where they live and the rich history that we have, then we become more of an ideal community.”

With its emphasis on job training, environmental awareness, and other programs including CeaseFire and Safe Passage, Claretian Associates’ biggest opportunity is the development of an area of land once occupied by steel mills. Crime escalated with the closure of the mills in the 1990s. The new development will focus on green energy solutions and residential housing.

“This is 600 acres of land,” said Samuel. “This 600 acres of land is going to be the biggest, greenest, newest city within a city in South Side Chicago. We want our kids to have the jobs to build and maintain this new city within a city.”

Another featured organization, Chicago Youth Guidance, has geared its mission of youth violence prevention through community and after-school programs, counseling and prevention, and youth workforce development. The latest addition to Youth Guidance is WOW (Working On Womanhood). According to the program’s chief counselor, Gail Day, the creation of WOW came about when schools began noticing a strong increase in violence among teenage girls.

“All of our female counselors came together and developed a curriculum based on what we had seen,” Day said. Self-awareness, emotional intelligence, healthy relationships, leadership, and visionary goal setting each play a role in educating and inspiring girls from underprivileged families on how to positively shape their own lives and their communities.

“It’s one thing to know that you are going to go to school, then you are going to go to college, but what’s your vision on a broader spectrum? Then when you get there, what are you going to do for the community that you came from? That’s where we want to take them.”

Laruen Jensik, StreetWise Contributor

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