FOX 32 NEWS - Baseball may just be a game, but it's more than that for dozens of kids on the South Side. It’s an escape and hopefully a bridge to a better way of life.
"Lost Boyz is a violence prevention program using the platform of organized baseball and girls fast pitch softball,” said Executive Director and Co-Founder of Lost Boyz, Lavonte Stewart Sr. "Social scientific theory basically says that using sports, we can help to put children on a positive trajectory in life based on mutually beneficial relationships over this platform of sports."
A good number of the kids involved are off the streets thanks to the Lost Boyz program. Many have seen or experienced things that no child should in their South Shore neighborhood.
Angelo Walker lost his brother to gun violence on Christmas morning. He’s been in this program since he was nine and he says they comforted him during one of the most difficult times in his young life.
“They started giving me hugs and stuff and I appreciate it. But, I broke down crying because I was glad that I had somebody here that held me, other than just my family members,” Walker said.
He finds sanctuary with the group. This is more than just a game for kids like Walker.
"It's keeping me out of the streets, staying in school, like my coach always tells me, a student before an athlete,” Walker said.
Miles Lewis is one of the program's success stories. He now works with the kids.
"Lost Boyz has changed my life in a lot of ways. I used to be bad in school, I got suspended a couple of times. After I started hanging out with Coach, he told me to calm down, you're better than this, Miles. And after he told me that, I suddenly started to become a better person and baseball, physically and mentally,” Lewis said.
Lewis is now a student at Governors State University, studying computer science. Besides working with kids between age 4 and 16, there is another program that extends more structure for older students who want it.
"Instead of playing for us, we hire them. So, they become junior coaches, they become field maintenance and equipment managers, they become sports journalists thanks to programs like After School Matters,” Stewart Sr. said.
From help on the baseball diamond to help in the classroom, the goal is to be a life line for kids who need it most.
"Our job is to be that buffer right before they engage or interface with the criminal justice system. Whether it's the court system itself or whether it's the juvenile institution. So we want to catch them, those type of kids before they get there,” Stewart Sr. said.
Lost Boyz executive director says the program has had its share of losses. He’s struggled with kids who dropped out of the program, some of whom ended up behind bars or even killed.
Stewart says it makes them work that much harder to not lose anyone else.
Lost Boyz recruits kids at schools, but it also aims to reach out through social media.