Young adults mentor children to help combat Chicago violence - FOX 32 News Chicago

Young adults mentor children to help combat Chicago violence

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Keeping your kids safe in some Chicago neighborhoods gets tougher in the summer months when violence can push the city to the tipping point.

Looking to combat the bloodshed, a unique partnership is getting young adults -- who need jobs -- together with young children who need mentors.

It takes some kind of confidence for a young man to let everybody see him practice yoga on the sidewalk -- the kind of courage that can replace bravado.

"Our mind is always telling us we can't do something, then when we see someone else do it, we know it can be done," said Shango Johnson, who leads a class in yoga.

Young adults ranging from 18 to 25 year olds are getting $8 an hour as part of the city's 'One Summer Chicago' program, and younger kids are part of their job description.

“It’s good to see these young men coming together and helping these lil’ kids try to grow up in a better environment than we did,” said summer camp mentor Jalon Tribble.

Young adults mentoring young children on a block in West Englewood is a month long collaboration. The community group ‘I Grow Chicago’ persuaded the city to allow them to block off the street for safety, and they also raised $40,000 in private donations. Therefore, the 5 to 9 year olds could be included in the camp.

Children are free to play in the street -- which is very liberating for the little ones -- while the older youth work with their hands and their minds.

“The important thing is, how do we really connect that garden to our everyday life, and our future,” asked master gardener Richard Dobbins.

Master gardeners are donating their expertise to help the city envision a new future for a long vacant lot.

The volunteers sometimes just show up, like retired teacher and master gardener Sharon Fregeau.

“We have to get all those weeds outta there," said Fregeau. "We have rakes for little people, and we have shovels.”

The program brings new skills and tools to a place with precious, few resources. It’s an alternative to the usual drug business on the streets.

“These young guys here are fabulous, they're just really into this, and they're doing so much physical labor, and we all want this camp to work,” Fregeau added.

“Being in gangs, being in illegal transaction of drugs and doing things you can to survive, and think that’s the only way to survive,” Johnson said. “So, once I learned that I had to stop doing the things that had me surviving, and start learning the things that I need to learn to succeed, that's when my life started changing.”

There’s only one more week of the city's program, but the team is here to stay working to rehab a ramshackle home into a community peace house.

Along with the envisioned neighborhood garden, it takes time and money but the harvest may be priceless.

“I’m proud of them because they work hard, they get out here, they do their jobs, they're on time, and I know this is just the beginning,” said Fatima Ward Johnson of Catholic Charities.

The program all started with one woman offering free yoga in the park.

‘I Grow Chicago’ has no plans right now to grow on any other blocks, which means it's wide open for anyone else who wants to follow their lead.

For more information, visit I Grow Chicago's website.

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