Youth Safety & Violence Prevention: Urban Warriors

Watch this compelling video to learn more about the Urban Warriors program and the postive impact it is having in Chicago's most at-risk communities. 


Urban Warriors is a program of the YMCA of Metro Chicago's Youth Safety and Violence Prevention initiative (YSVP). Urban Warriors provides a structured curriculum-based program, that pairs experienced veterans with youth exposed to violence in some of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods. These two groups share common life experiences–surviving in hostile environments and striving to cope. Together, they discuss and process their experiences with violence, develop and share coping skills, and identify the strengths they have developed and how they can channel them to benefit their communities. This trauma-informed approach fosters a unique supportive relationship between military veterans and youth.

Researchers have reflected on the striking parallels between the experiences of child soldiers around the world and gang members in the United States; accordingly, the many lessons learned from international child soldier research may also apply to gang members in the United States (Kerig, Wainryb, Twali, & Chalpo, 2013).

Of the 41 youth who participated in a recent cohort pre-assessment, 22 answered "yes" when asked if they had "ever been in a place where a war was going on around them", and 36 responded "yes" when asked whether they had "seen or heard about the violent death of a loved one". In many youth, these experiences cause reactions that parallel many of the post-traumatic stress symptoms that veterans experience.

Urban Warriors reduces the traumatic effects of violence on “American child soldiers” and supports youth participants through 16 weeks of structured programming. Sessions are facilitated by military veterans, who are trained and supported by YSVP staff. The curriculum consists of 5 thematic areas: belonging, positive identity development, cognitive restructuring, coping, and community engagement.

YMCA of Metro Chicago Urban Warriors graduation ceremony

Urban Warriors veteran mentors and participating youth develop strong bonds as trust is established through the program. Here a mentor congratulates his mentee at the program's culminating graduation ceremony. 


After youth complete the 16-week Urban Warriors program, they have the option of continuing to work with YSVP staff through a unique program called Story Squad. Story Squad, an audio storytelling program, empowers youth and veterans to channel their traumatic experiences through personal audio stories that are shared within their community and throughout the world. Through this cathartic process, youth and vets share their personal struggles to help shed light on the complex challenges they face in their communities. As you listen you will hear stories of bravery, strength and struggle, and learn that amazing things can happen when we take the time to build safe, supportive and non-judgemental relationships with youth. Please take a momoent to listen to the excerpts provided below from a recent Urban Warriors Story Album. 

Listen to the full Urban Warriors Story Album


Are you a military veteran interested in mentoring our Urban Warrior youth? Please fill out this mentorship application form. Still have questions about the program? Please contact us at


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.

It is only through the support from our foundation, corporate partners, and private donations that we are able to do this important work. Please support our cause!


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