Organized efforts at mentoring children and youth began in the late 1990’s, with reflections held for men of the parish and community to reflect on their responsibilities in the community, and to be trained in directing activities of adolescent boys. From that effort grew the “Padrinos,” a one-on-one mentoring effort directed at youth-at-risk ages 11-15.
In the summer of 2000, the parish received a small grant from the state of Illinois Futures for Kids program, which allowed the development of a summer mentoring group for boys and girls ages 6-12. Teens ages 15-21 worked one-on-one with their “Partners” in recreational, social, and learning activities and outings. Much was learned from the experience, including the issue of hunger in neighborhood children, leading to the development of Kid’s Cafe.
In 2005, with the help of a grant through the Cook County Department of Juvenile Probation, a new effort, “RADAR”, was born to “establish and maintain a structure involving schools, the park, social service agencies, and juvenile justice representatives which would identify and track youth ages 11-18 who repeatedly engage in antisocial and criminal behaviors in the schools, the park, and the neighborhood, enabling the community to respond in such a way that the youth may reintegrate into positive developmental activities.”
In 2007, Project Safe Neighborhoods offered us a grant to run a summer-long mentoring “camp” experience in which 7 youth workers sought and identified youth ages 9-18 to participate in activities centered on academics, sports, careers, and the arts. Through this program, 62 youth participated of which three more mentor groups were identified and established.
Through these efforts and support, mentor groups led by Claudio Rivera and other adult mentors developed. Youth continually are identified for mentor groups through the networking of “RADAR”. All mentoring groups consist of boys and/or girls in age ranges of 9-12, 13-15, and 16-18 with a range of 6-10 participants per group and are led by one or two adult mentors. The mentor groups meet weekly during out-of-school hours.
The focus of the mentor groups revolves around positive social behavior, academic retention, and development of life skills. These focus areas are maintained by activities such as discussions on topics and themes relevant to youth, outreach sports and fitness, reading clubs and film reviews, art projects, social skills training and role-playing, and community events and service projects, which help to promote relationship-building between youth and mentors.