Holy Cross’ Reflections group offers support and guidance to young men struggling with academic success, gang violence, and abusive or neglectful homes. The group of young men—many of whom are gang members—meets weekly with parish staff, a local teacher, and a psychologist to reflect on their lives, make personal connections, and support each other in making healthy, positive decisions for their futures.
Many of the young people who regularly come to Reflections are not typically joiners; they usually aren’t active in other parish programs. They come by word of mouth or are pulled off the street by parish staff or other adults involved in the program as a way of directly intervening in the lives of those who need it the most.
During the more than 20 years that Holy Cross has worked with young gang members, parish leaders have learned that most of these kids actually don’t want to be involved in drugs and violence. These young people often have very fragile self-esteem and also usually have no adequate support system at home. This reality makes them extremely vulnerable to the reach and influence of gang leaders. For the older kids, issues of masculinity and violent retaliation quickly come into play as default coping mechanisms. But by understanding this about the community’s young males, Holy Cross’ leaders connect with them on a deeper level. They have found that these teens don’t want to be dropouts; they want to finish high school.
Based on this knowledge, the primary goal of Reflections is to get these young men back into school. Being involved in school gives them a structure to guide them through the difficult, sometimes violent, adolescent years. Being a part of Reflections, combined with regular school attendance, gives many of these young people the foundation they need to turn their lives around and begin to correct and move past mistakes.
Each meeting begins with the group eating together. During the meal, everyone must share one positive thing that happened to him in the last week. For some, their positive news might be simply that they went to school every day. For others, it might be a successful court appearance. This reflection period shifts the young people’s focus from the negative things that may be happening in their lives to aspects that offer hope and chances for growth.
After everyone has shared, the group leaders then introduce a discussion topic ranging from violence to family to life skills. The group’s leaders always encourage the young men to share their personal experiences in relation to the topic. The goal is for the teens to make meaningful, healthy connections to help each other deal with the issues in their lives.
Guest speakers often talk to the group after the discussion period. In the past, these speakers have included legal prosecutors, police commanders and superintendents, local aldermen, parole officers, and founders of community antiviolence groups, among others. The speakers share their own experiences with violence in communities like the Back of the Yards, connecting their expertise with the daily realities the teens live with.
The Reflections group serves as a way for the parish to reach out to the young men who most need positive intervention in their lives. For many of these young people, the group provides the first time anyone has asked them to tell their stories, reflect on their lives, and set goals for the future.
Help support this program by making a donation right now. Select Reflections under the Program Specific Use drop-down menu on our donation form to give your money directly to this group. Help parish staff continue to practice the Reflections group’s motto: “Don’t ever give up on a kid.”