CHICAGO (CBS) — Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have teamed up with and mentor young people who live in violent communities, to try to help them see life through different eyes.
“I actually witnessed my first murder when I was about six years old,” said 17-year old Anderson Chavez, who grew up in Cicero and now lives in Berwyn.
Chavez is one of 14 teens who recently completed the Urban Warriors pilot program of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. The program involves military vets meeting with young people to help them deal with the war-like trauma they experience.
“For the vets, it’s taking their training from the military and re-applying that in the community. If they’re trained to be peacekeepers, how do they keep building on that?” said Co-director Eddie Bocanegra.
Bocanegra said all the young people who took part in the Urban Warriors experiment have either witnessed a friend or someone else being shot, stabbed, or killed and, “about 80% of them had a sibling or a parent currently involved or were involved in the street life”.
Chavez said he grew up thinking violence and crime were what life was all about. He said his two older brothers have been involved in gang activity.
He said, that’s why, in looking back, he reacted so matter-of-factly to that first murder he witnessed.
“I actually went outside to see him. His face was turning purple. His eyes were rolling in the back of his head,” he said.
One of the aspects of Urban Warriors that sticks with Chavez: You don’t have to be violent or do criminal acts to be a real man. He said, for the past year, he’s been trying to change the way he views life and he’s working to complete his high school diploma.
The first 12-week Urban Warriors program finished recently in Little Village. In the next few weeks, there will be another Urban Warriors program in the South Chicago community. The YMCA of Metro Chicago is currently looking for a few post-9/11 military veterans to volunteer to help.