Though news of violence in Chicago is currently dominating national headlines, it’s definitely not a new problem in places like the Back of the Yards neighborhood. For generations now, young people have grown up and thrived in communities with challenges no child should have to think about. In this Community Voices post, Mary Gomez, the Program Supervisor for the After-School Program at Casa Romero—a tutoring, mentoring, and nutrition and life-skills education program for at-risk children and teens in Chicago—shares the challenges the program faces and the important role it plays in the city’s Back of the Yards community:
The biggest challenge the After-School Program at Casa Romero faces is the violence. This past summer was pretty bad. It was a challenge just going outside, feeling safe to even walk to our local park and play a soccer game, be at the playground, or have a picnic outside. We try our best to speak to the kids about it and give them the opportunity to reflect on and talk about it. And we try to involve the parents. If there’s something that goes on in the community, an act of violence, we try to keep in contact with the parents to let them know where it happened and who was involved, let them know to be careful. We try to be vigilant and aware and communicate within the community.
But with all the talk of violence in the news, it’s easy to lose sight of all the good, really positive things happening in neighborhoods like ours. In Back of the Yards, Casa Romero plays a huge role. Yes, the violence is here, but there’s so much more. We have so many wonderful role models in our tutoring and mentoring program. All of our group leaders now are in college, whether they’re majoring in education or social services. I think it’s important for the kids to see that and know that they can go to college too. They can have their careers; they can look past all this violence. I think that’s the big picture, giving them that hope and that opportunity to grow and learn, despite some of the realities happening in the community.
I can compare what my students now go through to when I was a child in the larger area, and the violence has increased a great deal since then. And it’s not just the summer, it’s throughout the year. But the summer is when we see the most happening. With the warm weather everyone’s out, and they stay out late. Unfortunately that aspect of the violence hasn’t really changed too much since I was growing up.
But one really great example of how the After-School Program at Casa Romero makes a real impact on our students is through Camp Imagination, our special summer program. We start it at the end of June and go through the end of August. We extend our regular hours. We have recreational activities and fundraisers, and we go on educational field trips. Our tutors and mentors keep the life-skills education and academics in the curriculum, as well as recreational activities like arts and crafts. We also do a neighborhood cleanup. We have recycling programs and health and nutrition programs. Basically, we offer a little bit of everything to keep our children and teens learning, engaged, and off the street. It gives the kids hope, an opportunity to work toward their dreams and goals and see beyond all the violence.
Consider making a donation to the After-School Program at Casa Romero to give at-risk youth in Chicago the chance to build a future full of hope and free from violence. Your gift today can help make sure that the Holy Cross community in Back of the Yards is ready to face the upcoming summer and all the challenges that 2016 will bring.
Learn more about what young people learn and experience at Casa Romero: