CHICAGO (CBS) — Eleven churches from the west side Austin neighborhood hope to curb violence in the community by reaching out one-on-one to teens.
More than 100 potential mentors attended the first meeting of the “Austin DreamMakers” Saturday at the Mars Hill Baptist Church, 5916 W. Lake St.
Pastor Ira Acree of Greater Saint John Bible Church said the churches want to work together because there is power in numbers, and even more power when committed people go beyond the walls of the church to find teens to mentor.
“These people who are killing each other in our neighborhood? Maybe their moms go to church. Maybe their grandmothers go to church,” Acree said. “There are teens going to church, and so we’ve got access to these kids. We’ve just got to learn how to put our arms around them and try some different ways of shaping them. We’ve got assets in the church.”
Acree said the message will be easier for teens to digest if mentors work one-on-one with them. He said the pastors hope to break the cycle of “shoot first, think later” by teaching the teens conflict resolution, leadership development and financial literacy.
Acree said he decided on the mentoring approach after other teens confronted his son at gunpoint last summer and robbed him. The son escaped injury.
“We cannot afford to wait on the governor, the mayor, the police chief or anyone else to figure it out,” Acree said. “It’s time for the church to stand up and take its rightful place in dealing with this problem.”
Pastor Steve Epting of Hope Community Church told the mentors-in-training that the only way to break the cycle of violence is to take action.
“How long are we going to wait for someone else to make a change in our community? How long are we going to wait until economic development, people from outside, to come in and make a difference, or can we do something ourselves?” he asked.
He said those who attended as potential mentors have “a desire to make change.”