Youth Violence Prevention Week: YMCA’s stance against violence in Chicago starts with our youth

April 11, 2014


YMCA Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Co-Directors Eddie Bocanegra and Ryan Lugalia-Hollon work together to develop programs promoting peace and conflict resolution across the Association."

“Violence is a substantial threat to the health and safety of youth in Chicago. In 2011, 433 people in Chicago died of violence-related causes,” states the organization Strengthening Chicago’s Youth (SCY), who have observed National Youth Violence Prevention week (April 7-11, 2014) to raise awareness through education and open discussion about how we all can play a role in preventing youth violence.

Children exposure to violence, or CEV, is one of the most widespread and damaging childhood traumas. Bullying, physical abuse or even witnessing violent acts causes cognitive impairment that leads to poor academic performance, self-regulation and stress tolerance. Children who experience violence are also much more likely to commit violent acts themselves. For the YMCA, the message is clear: if we are committed to positive youth development for all greater Chicagoland children, then it must be our highest priority to eradicate CEV and reverse its damaging effects on our kids.

YMCA of Metro Chicago Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Co-Directors Eddie Bocanegra and Ryan Lugalia-Hollon work together to develop programs promoting peace and conflict resolution across the Association. YSVP is a comprehensive anti-violence initiative that launched in 2012. For years, the Y has run street violence intervention programs serving at-risk or incarcerated youth, but the peacemaking mission of YSVP is far more ambitious. The goal, explains Ryan, is to teach the principles and strategies of violence prevention in each and every YMCA program.

Through his personal experience and his pioneering work with a number of Chicago anti-violence organizations, Eddie, a prominent Chicago anti-violence activist, learned that it isn’t enough to treat the symptoms of violence. You have to cure the disease at its source, starting in the very communities that the YMCA serves. “Telling someone to put their gun down does not address the root causes of violence,” Eddie says. “The YMCA can make a difference because we are deeply invested and embedded in communities where violence is a major issue. We have the experience to understand the unique needs of each of our communities, and provide the healing, support and opportunities for growth that all young people need and deserve.”

“Safety is a foundational human need, and by making investments in the safety of our communities across the greater Chicagoland area, we are enabling people to reach their full potential.” –Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Co-Director, YSVP.
Violence prevention is a daunting task, but Ryan and Eddie are employing evidence-based methods that have been proven as effective antidotes to violent behavior. Sometimes all that people need is a viable nonviolent option for resolving conflict. Peacemaking Circles are a good example. In a Peacemaking Circle, five to 15 youth or adults sit in a circle. Only the person holding the “talking piece” can speak, while the rest listen.

“A peacemaking circle is a restorative justice practice where people come together to process a difficult issue, resolve a conflict, grieve the loss of a friend, or navigate a difficult transition in their life,” Ryan explains. “A peacemaking circle is a way for Y staff and members to put our core values into action: honesty, respect, caring and responsibility,” says Ryan. “When we teach this practice to the young people we work with, we’re giving them a tool to deal with problems that they didn’t have before. So when kids are confronted with an issue, now they have a powerful nonviolent option.”

Because the Y is so deeply rooted across Chicagoland, we have a real opportunity — and a responsibility — to help every child grow up safe and sound. The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago supports local organizations like SCY in their endeavors to create a violence free Chicago. To learn more about the mission and initiatives that drive YSVP, visit their program page.