Program helps steer Chicago youth away from trouble

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -- Chicago's violent summer has people looking for solutions, and most discussions involve more police and fewer guns.

But now, there’s a new program keeping youngsters off the streets and out of trouble.
 
On a summer day when some teenagers might have been hanging out in their neighborhoods, some young girls are learning how to manage a restaurant, working on their soccer game, or practicing computer skills.

All of the activities are made available by the Midtown Educational Foundation, which is now in its 50th year on Chicago's West Side.

“We're bringing parents and students together from different racial backgrounds, culture backgrounds, different religions, and giving them an opportunity to become friends with each other,” said Erin Aldrich.

Aldrich runs the foundation's Metro Achievement Center for girls. A few blocks away, there's the Midtown Center for boys.

Altogether, about a thousand kids, grades 4 through 12, participate in the programs; full days in the summer and after-school programs during the school year.

All of the students are from inner city neighborhoods where it's easy to go down the wrong path. Not here.

“We're on the positive track like Metro's teaching us, you know, I mean, I feel like we would never turn down a negative path like that. And going to Metro leads us to not do any negative things, basically, because we all see each other succeeding, we kind of want to do what each other is doing,” said Metro participant Imani Turner.

Midtown receives no state or federal dollars, but Corporate donors play a big role.

For example, volunteers from Coca Cola help run a health and fitness program. There are also apprenticeship programs in business, engineering and hospitality.

The young women who are part of the apprenticeship program this summer are actually getting paid for their time.

And for many of them, it's their first job.

“Some people see what we're doing now and they see what we're doing and they say, ‘Oh, you're teaching a cooking class.’ But it's not really a cooking class,” said Rebecca Sullivan, Hospitality Apprenticeship Program Inspector.

The girls in the program are learning what it's like to work side by side with the same people every day, skills they can use wherever their future takes them. There are also classes in virtue, and character.

“They teach us about friendship, about how to be a good person in life and in the future,” said Midtown participant Bella Vences.

Midtown's executive director Glenn Wilke said that 50 years ago, Midtown's goal was helping youngsters succeed, not keeping them out of gangs and off the streets. But that's been one of the results.

He said 100 percent of Midtown's recent participants have gone on to college.

“The virtues for long lasting success is what we try and emphasize here. Everything else is good and excellent but that's exceptional. The things they may be missing at home. The skills they need to succeed,” Wilke said.

Succeeding, where success sometimes doesn't come easy.

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