CHICAGO - They're some of the busiest volunteers at Chicago’s Animal Care and Control, and by working with animals, they're putting their own lives back on track.
Kejuan Scott plays with one of the hundreds of abandoned dogs now in the custody of Chicago’s Animal Care and Control. And like the animals he now cares for, Scott was once himself a creature of the streets.
"I was shot May 5, 2018, and I have six children so that affected me a lot,” said Scott. “So it made me want to do better for them."
Scott is now one of 10 adult men, all former gang members, ex-cons and crime victims, now working as paid volunteers at the city pound.
It’s all part of an innovative job-training program called "Readi Chicago."
"We knew we were trying to do something that the country has never seen,” said Miguel Cambray, Program Director, Heartland Alliance. “That the city has never seen. And we had to be different."
Cambray says the idea was conceived following the surge of Chicago violence in 2016. The participants attend group therapy sessions and job training, while also working 30 hours a week.
They earn $13 an hour to start, paid by the Heartland Alliance.
"It gives them a sense of purpose and a sense of giving back,” said Cambray. “And a sense of being part of something that's bigger than them."
The men perform a variety of duties at the shelter, including feeding animals and cleaning cages.
Perhaps the most important job, though, is just being there for the animals.
"These guys can relate to the predicament the animals find themselves in,” said Jenny Schlueter, Animal Care and Control.
ACC Assistant Director Jenny Schlueter says before the program started, there would be many days they had few or no volunteers.
She says the men help socialize the animals by playing with them and walking them, which also makes them more adoptable.
"Without these guys the animals here wouldn't be as well off,” said Schlueter. “And so we're just so grateful. The need is real and they've really filled in a need."
The program lasts 18 months and participants like Scott say helping with the animals has provided discipline and work experience that will pay off the rest of their lives.
"I turned my life around 360,” said Scott. “I don't break the law anymore. I feel good inside that I’m doing something and giving back to the community, helping out with animals. I've saved more animals lives. It's always good to save a life you know. Whether it's human or animal."
Perhaps, even his own.