December 13, 2016
From left, YSVP outreach workes Mike Almore, Adrian Hernandez and Justin Wilford
On Saturday, December 10, the YMCA of Metro Chicago held a recognition ceremony for graduates of its Urban Warriors youth mentoring program. Urban Warriors was launched in 2014 as a program of the YMCA's Youth Safety and Violence Prevention (YSVP) initiative. The program has captured national attention for its pairing of post-9/11 military veterans with youth exposed to high levels of trauma. The cohort honored Saturday was the first to include young women in veterans and youth, and the largest cohort to date, with 46 youth and 20 veteran-mentors. Watch a story about the event (WGN-TV).
The ceremony took place at The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA). Deborah Gorman-Smith, the Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor and Deputy Dean for Research & Faculty Development, is leading a multi-year study funded by the MacArthur Foundation to study the program's effectiveness. Gorman-Smith remarked that Urban Warriors "exemplifies that it is essential to integrate both what we know from research and science and what we learn and know from our experience to truly make a diference," and praised the veterans, youth, family, and Y staff for their dedication and care. "Now, today, this moment, is why I and so many others do this work. Congratulations to all of you."
Keynote Speaker Xavier McElrath-Bey, senior advisor and national advocate of the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, shared his compelling story and assured the youth alumni, "Today is a stepping stone toward something better. Today is an opportunity for you to embrace the positive adult relationships that you have and to be honest and open...Recognize that you have a more powerful voice than you ever imagined."
Among the community supporters who spoke was Tamara Jordan, Senator Dick Durbin's military and veteran liaison at the Chicago office. Jordan read a letter from Senator Durbin praising the program as a model for violence-cessation programs nationwide and announcing legislation inspired by Urban Warrior's success. Jordan is set to join Urban Warriors as a mentor in January.
The Larry Melvin Alumni award was given to veteran mentor Alberto Boleres for his exemplary participation. A new award was introduced this year, the Abner Garcia Alumni Award for outstanding youth participant, and was awarded to Giovanni Hernandez.
Newly minted Urban Warriors alum Martin summed up the effect the program has had on him and so many others in his remarks. "Even though this program is over, we are still the peacemakers of the community."
Urban Warriors is generously supported by Allstate Insurance Company, the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, the Boeing Company, BMO Harris Bank, Chicago Bulls Charities, the Leo S. Guthman Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Nurmi Family Foundation, Michael Reese Health Trust, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.