CHICAGO (CBS) — With Chicago in the crosshairs of gun violence, the city of Chicago recently pledged an additional $10 million for mentoring programs to help troubled youth.
Mike Almore, referred to as “Big Mike” was expelled for bringing a gun to school, but he eventually turned his life around. He says it was after a close call with gang violence that he decided to change his own life and start inspiring others to do the same. He now works as a mentor at a YMCA.
Inside Mike Almore’s YMCA office in Pilsen, a memorial with pictures of those killed by gun violence helps remind him of why he serves as a mentor to troubled youth.
“This is my little shrine. This is my little brother. He was killed. This is Manny Mendoza who was killed last year. They both got killed at the same time,” Almore said, showing photos of those killed by violence, along with a prayer he posted on his office wall.
“I was getting shot at by someone I couldn’t see,” Almore recalled. “ I was leaning on a stop sign and the bullets bounced off a pole. If that wasn’t divine intervention…” He said that incident convinced him to leave gang life and turn his life around. One of his first jobs was at a cemetery. “It bothered me to bury young people lost to violence. A mother tried to jump in the grave and be buried with her son.”
Almore now mentors children at the YMCA, working with teens like 17-year-old William Javier.
“I was slowly creeping into that area of doing bad stuff,” Javier, a high school senior, said.
Almore says chairs in the YMCA program are one weapon in the war on violence, forming a “peace circle” where the teens can talk freely.
“This is like a safe place to be in,” Javier said.
“Showing empathy and understanding makes it real. I didn’t get hired or maintain this job because I was a saint. I was a sinner for part of my life,” said Almore.
Life skills, goal setting, social awareness, and responsibility are four of the topics Almore says he tries to convey to his mentees.
“It is a war we’re winning? No,” said Almore. “But it’s a war I’m willing to fight.”
Almore admitted he cannot save every teen, but points to several success stories of teens who have left the gang path to return to school and even continue on to college. Construction worker, painter, and pharmacist are among some of their careers.