June 21, 2017
On Saturday, June 17, the YMCA of Metro Chicago held a graduation ceremony for Urban Warriors at the Reva and David Logan Center for Arts at the University of Chicago.
Former Executive Director of the Y's Youth Safety and Violence Prevention (YSVP) initiative, Eddie Bocanegra, served as keynote speaker. He founded the Urban Warriors program in 2014 and shared a story about how the idea of Urban Warriors came about. He and his younger brother, a highly decorated Army veteran, had very different experiences, but both went through similar trauma and found a therapeutic connection that they could utilize. In an emotional farewell speech, Eddie said “I knew [the kids] before the Y, I knew them through the Y and I will know them after the Y. That is my commitment. I am far from perfect but I’m going to try hard to make a difference in their lives”. Eddie recently accepted the role of senior director of the READi Chicago initiative at Heartland Alliance.
Richard Malone, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metro Chicago, said Eddie Bocanegra leaves a legacy at the Y that continues in his new role -- creating positive change in the city of Chicago.
A few of the Urban Warriors youth and veteran mentors spoke about how the program helped them become better people. Kishauna Hampton, a veteran mentor at the Humboldt Park Urban Warriors site, shared her story about her struggles and success. She relates to the youth because of experiences she had as a young woman growing up in Chicago surrounded by violence and gangs. She later joined the Army in an attempt to “make it out of the hood alive”, and was deployed to Iraq for 13 months in 2003 where she endured more traumatic experiences. Still, she persevered and has found programs like Urban Warriors to be beneficial.
Kishuana, who now has a job and a master's degree in criminal justice, said she used to avoid mentoring young women because she saw herself “in each and every one of them”. She decided to work with the young women in Humboldt Park this year and admits it was a very therapeutic opportunity for her. She thanked her Humboldt Park Urban Warriors cohort mentees, saying that she now realizes that she can handle any challenge if she works hard for it noting that “change is easy.”
Urban Warriors is a YMCA of Metro Chicago Youth Safety and Violence Prevention initiative program that brings together recent military veterans with youth who have experienced high levels of trauma exposure. Walking together through a 16-session curriculum, youth in this program learn positive strategies for coping with trauma and loss and are given key tools for improving their physical, mental and emotional health. This spring, 47 male and female youth and 16 veteran mentors graduated from Urban Warriors.
Deborah Gorman-Smith, Principal Investigator and Director of the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, and her team are conducting a multi-year study on the effectiveness of the Urban Warriors program.
Urban Warriors is generously supported by Allstate Insurance Company, the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, the Boeing Company, Big Ten Network, Chicago Bulls Charities, Chicago Cubs Charities, Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, City of Chicago Department of Family & Support Services, Chicago Public Library South Chicago Branch, FCB Chicago, Foundation to be Named Later, Lefkofsky Family Foundation, the Leo S. Guthman Fund, Little Village Youth Safety Network, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and the Vitalogy Foundation.