Holy Cross Parish Chicago, Illinois
The number one goal of the mentoring program is to implant in young people a sense of dignity, self-pride, and academic and professional success by giving them the tools necessary to be contributing, healthy members of their community. Holy Cross offers gender-separate mentoring groups; the boys group is called Reflections, but the girls also have a stand-alone group that serves about a dozen young girls.
Since it began in 2001, the mentoring program has built nurturing, enduring relationships between the volunteer mentors and young people from the neighborhood. With the reliable support of positive role models, most young people in the program achieve increased success academically, which often results in a decrease in contact with the criminal justice system. With a clean or reformed criminal record and a high school diploma, a young person is much more likely to maintain stable employment and support a functional family. To achieve this goal, the mentoring program refers many participants to the nearby alternative high school that was created through a partnership between Chicago Public Schools and Holy Cross parish.
In addition to the program’s focus on education, positive socialization, issue-based discussion, and counseling, mentors spend time working on social and life skills. Mentors also work on job skills for the older students.
The mentoring program serves youth in grades 7th through 10th grade in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago, where truancy and dropout rates at local schools are much higher than state averages. Scores on standardized tests are also substantially worse. Over the last several years, the neighborhood has experienced a 10% increase in crime, which is generally attributed in large part to gang activity.
The mentoring program is responsive to these neighborhood needs. Over the years, the staff at the parish has seen a significant reduction of violence in the neighborhood due in no small part to these mentoring relationships. Many of these youths have no one they are trying to please at home. The mentoring program, like all of the parish’s programs, gives kids positive role models who get to know them well and show pride in them. For many participants, this gives them a different outlook on themselves and allows them to see a positive place for themselves in the world.