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Stop Poster

Paul Schott/MEDILL

Students enrolled in All-Stars, a Chicago Commons arts program funded by the Teen REACH initiative, work on posters promoting community safety and solidarity. 

Program hopes to get ahead of youth violence curve

by Paul Schott
Nov 24, 2009

Newspaper front pages and television broadcasts swirl with talk of solutions to violence when a young person is killed. Nothing new there, sadly.

One state agency, however, wants to spark that public conversation when a child is simply painting a picture.

The Illinois Department of Human Services launched its inaugural Stop the Violence Summit Day last Thursday at six sites around the state to raise awareness for violence prevention and outreach programs run by nonprofits that are financed by its Teen REACH initiative.

REACH is an acronym for responsibility, education, achievement, caring and hope.

DHS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said the department organized the event to let communities know that there are resources for at-risk youth.

“With an increase in violence across the state, and the challenges that youth face, we wanted to have this day for Teen REACH organizations to address the people in the community, so that they could learn more about the programs,” she said.

Sainvilus added that the DHS is planning future Summit Days to reach out to even more youth from violence-plagued communities.

At the Summit Day launch last Thursday at the Paulo Freire Center in Back of the Yards, hosted by the community service organization Chicago Commons, the uplifting power of the arts stood out as the prevailing theme.

Elementary and middle school students involved in Commons arts and academic programs presented plaques to be displayed in the community and a peace quilt that they made, all to promote community safety and solidarity.

Eddie Anguiano, director of youth services at Commons, said the summit day doesn’t just raise outside awareness about the importance of youth outreach but also validates the positive achievements of the programs’ participants.

“What it does is build their self-esteem, because when you increase your self-esteem, it motivates you to do good things for yourself,” he said. “Nobody really wants to grow up to be a gang banger, to die early.”

Officer Sabrina King agreed with Anguiano that most kids do not want to get embroiled in violence. She added that more events like the Summit Day were needed to counteract the myriad of negative influences that many young Back of the Yarders face.

"All they see is the gang bangers, all they see is the drug dealers," she said. "I really think that if we can bring more positiveness through events like this, we can start to instill peace in the community."