November 10, 2014
Photo caption: Inaugural Urban Warriors Graduation Ceremony with veteran mentors (in blue), 2014.
I was born about a year after Congress declared a day to honor American veterans of all wars. But it wasn’t until this year that I came to deeply understand the similarities between the battlefields of war and the battlefields here in Chicago. This year, I’ve met post-9/11 veterans who joined the armed forces not only to serve, but also to escape tough neighborhoods dominated by gangs. They earned purple hearts and validations, and when they returned home, they sought work, started families and saw that little had changed in their neighborhoods.
Today, across the Chicago area, there are more gangs – splintered and perhaps weaker in structure than a generation ago, but no less threatening or violent. They leave young people with a false choice: join the gangs, or hide from them. Either way, they’ll spend most waking hours strategizing about how to escape the crossfire of a shootout.
The veterans I’ve met this year are courageous yet humble. And they’re still eager to serve. To help solve Chicago’s gang problems, they’ve stepped up as mentors to at-risk youth from the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods. In this role, they draw parallels between the challenges of the vets’ deployments and the stress in these teens’ lives. Trading stories about trauma, fear and worry – endured in service and in the neighborhood – they are helping to heal each participant in the Urban Warriors program, and to help stabilize lives shaken by gang and community violence.
So on this Veterans Day, I want to thank Angel, Jose, Richard, Jorge, Alberto and other veterans for their volunteerism. I also want to tell all veterans that their experiences are still meaningful today. Lastly, I want to thank Chicago Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney [Teens Find Allies in Veterans, July 11, 2014], for showcasing how a willing military veteran can save one more life here at home.
On this Veterans Day, I invite those who served our country to step forward once again, this time to mentor teens in neighborhoods across Chicago. Their wisdom and guidance are needed for one more mission.
President and CEO
YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago
U.S. Veteran Jorge Maya and youth Rafael were interviewed by Mark Brown for a story that appears in Chicago Sun-Times.
As a veteran mentor, Jorge encourages the youth to believe in themselves and strive for a better future. “There was a point I thought I wasn’t going to amount to anything good. If I can make it, you can, too,” he says.
The story appears online and on page 20 in the print edition.
CBS 2 reporter Jim Williams spoke with Lance Corporal Richard Rivera of the U.S. Marine Corps and youth Anderson about their participation in the Y's Urban Warriors program.
Lisa Fielding from WBBM Newsradio sat down with veteran Richard Rivera, director of YSVP Program Operations Meg Helder and youth Jose in the Youth Safety and Violence Prevention's headquarters in Pilsen.
Click here to read more.