Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Sand Castles to Futures: BUILD

Looking at the morning newspaper is often disheartening to say the least. In the past few weeks, the Chicago-area headlines have been filled with tragic stories of violence perpetrated against the young and innocent. As much as I realize the importance of reading these articles, I fear becoming jaded or beginning to feel powerless. I never want to view violence in my city as inherent or unavoidable.

Yesterday, however, I caught an incredible glimmer of hope. Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development (BUILD), works with at-risk youth offering them positive alternatives to violence. The program “begins with identification of youth who may be gang affiliated, delinquent, and/or encountering risk factors,” then works to engage them
in activities to “reduce risk-taking behaviors, set and reach educational and career goals, promote positive impact on peers, and encourage school retention and college/career prep.”

Bradley and I had the opportunity to visit San Lucas United Church yesterday which is home to BUILD’s summer program in the Humboldt Park community. When we arrived, the 60 kids involved in the program were finishing lunch and preparing for an exciting afternoon. Throughout the week the participants stay active by going fishing, visiting the beach, and competing in softball leagues.

During our visit Bradley and I spoke with Coco Calixto, a Prevention Specialist who has worked for BUILD for 27 years and whose roots with the organization span even further back to when Coco himself was a BUILD participant and then a volunteer. Coco is the kind of person who walks kids home from the program if their parents cannot pick them up, teaches the guys in the program how to barbecue during BUILD picnics, and has earned respect from the gangs in the surrounding area.

BUILD's summer program runs from 9:00am-5:00pm Mondays thru Thursdays and participants are broken up by three age groups: the Peewees (ages 6-8), the Juniors (ages 9-12), and the Seniors (ages 13+). The importance of involving even young kids in the program cannot be overstated. As C
oco told us, gangs often start recruiting kids as young as 6 or 7 because when little kids get caught with drugs, they get a mere “slap on the wrist” whereas older youth and teens are more severely punished.

During both the summer and school year programs, students are part of BUILD’s Life Skills curriculum which teaches kids street smarts to avoid dangerous situations and to make positive choices. Coco and the other BUILD staff members and volunteers find ways to keep this program engaging and high-energy . Oftentimes, they do role-playing games asking kids to navigate a difficult scenario. They challenge kids to think of positive ways to handle conflicts and to consider the consequences of each potential course of action. BUILD also brings in ex-gang members
who talk about the value in staying out of gangs and professionals from the community who discuss their steps toward a career.

The school year program also focuses on academics. In addition to volunteer tutors, BUILD encourages peer-to-peer tutoring to reinforce leadership skills for youth participants. Kids also have the opportunity to participate in cooking classes, budgeting simulation exercises,
and various sports leagues.

To finish our visit to BUILD, Coco took Bradley and I to the beach where “the Peewees” were collectively building a sand castle complete with a moat and river. I smiled realizing that Coco was once a kid in the program himself…his e
xample speaks volumes about BUILD's positive impact in the lives of kids, adults, families, and an entire community.

1 comment:

  1. I Miss My Build Youth!!! Glad to see you all doing so well.