Chicago nonprofit helps youth 'make more thoughtful life choices'

FOX 32 NEWS - Time is running out if you're a non-profit that's interested in helping Chicago youth -- with a unique source of funding. It’s called the "Go Innovate Challenge."

In this "One Chicago" report, FOX 32’s Larry Yellen has a look at how one of last year's winners is helping youth make better decisions.

They are known as the Story Catchers, rehearsing inside a juvenile justice center on Chicago's west side. It's the type of facility many of them are familiar with.

FOX 32: How did you get involved with this program?

“I was incarcerated (for) discharge of a firearm,” Deshawn Weeden said.

The Story Catchers Theatre reaches out to youth like Deshawn Weeden, from poor neighborhoods or juvenile centers, offering workshops, coaching and employment in the performing arts.

“Our mission is to help young people make more thoughtful life choices -- through the process of writing, performing and producing original music theater inspired by their personal stories,” said Meade Palidofsky of Story Catchers.

Its founder says storytelling often helps identify a traumatic experience, which shaped a youngsters life.

“To have that experience and see how that leads to committing crime and then becoming incarcerated, if you understand that trajectory, then you can break it. So that's what we're doing by writing their stories,” Palidofsky said.

“It's like you just feel better when you are doing something, you know. Encouraging your peers to do better. So that just feels good,” Weeden said.

Richard Gross's personal story deals with ignoring bad influences, and listening to good ones.

“The story is really having the bad influences around you and having someone like in the household with you who is like actually, hey, you should be doing the right thing,” Gross said.

Story Catchers Theatre was one of three non-profits, which last year won Chicago Beyond's Go Innovate Challenge, and received a $900k grant.

The competition for this year's grants opened last month with applicants being asked to provide a 90-second video describing innovative solutions to help Chicago's youth.

“We're just looking for programs that have impact. We're looking for nonprofits here in  the city that are doing amazing work, that are moving the needle on education and moving the needle on creating safer communities for kids,” said Liz Dozier of Chicago Beyond.

The deadline for applications for this year's innovation challenge is this Friday at midnight. For more details, you can go to ChicagoBeyond.org.

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