Chicago — Editor's note: "Reconciliation in Chicago" is NCRonline's newest blog series, a weekly blog from the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a ministry of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood based in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. Each post will feature hopeful reflections from the ministry's staff and volunteers, as they share their stories about working with youth and families affected by violence and incarceration.
"Reconciliation in Chicago" will be published every Monday at the feature series page Reconciliation in Chicago.
Tyreese, John and Shawn are three youth from our Back of the Yards Neighborhood. As young teenagers, they came to Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation for safety, support, and camaraderie. They came for the opportunity to talk about their struggles with violence in the area and the lack of opportunities, safe places and good friends.
Once a week, they would sit in a circle with other youth and our staff sharing their stories and their dreams. As we listened, we saw the need to offer programs that would enhance the young men's education and give them training for future employment.
Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation hired Patrick O'Connor to develop our Job Readiness Program, which provides 40-hour training in soft skills such as customer service, punctuality and problems solving. Students in the program develop an individual employment plan and a resume, and they practice interviewing for jobs.
The Job Readiness Program teaches students in groups and uses a cohort educational plan to build community, deepen relationships and create common goals.
Tyreese and John were among those in our first cohort group to be trained and then hired. Both are working with Manage Chicago, a property management company, doing basic house repairs, landscaping and assisting wherever the need be.
Tyreese and John wrote their respective stories below, with a little editing from me. First Tyreese.
Hello, I am Tyreese Brown, 20 years old. I have been hanging around Precious Blood Center since I was 15. The center has opened a lot of doors for me; I don't know what I would have done without Precious Blood Center or where I would be today. Maybe like many of my "brothers" I might be dead or incarcerated for a long time. I was the First Cohort of the Job Readiness Program (JRP) coordinated by Patrick O'Connor. He helped me get ready for a job and then accompanied me on the search. I now work full time and that keeps me off the streets and out of the way of the gun violence.
I love Precious Blood for all that it does for me and my friends. If only we had more places like PBMR, I believe Chicago would be a much better place and would not need to be given the name "Murder Capital of the U.S.", but rather a place where education and job doors are readily opened for the youth of our city.
And here's John's story.
I am one of the PBMR youth -- John Jones. I discovered PBMR when I was 16 and doors began to open for me that I could never have imagined. Father Kelly gave me my first summer job and nothing but the best happened to me as a result. I graduated from high school and then went on to college for two years, again with the help of PBMR. This spring I got a chance to enter the Job Readiness Program. I now have a job, go to work everyday, am learning to save my money and make better choices. I am seeing how hard work pays off. …
Someday I hope to be a contractor and open doors for other people. PBMR doors are always open for support, food and fun or just to stop in and talk. I love it that in my neighborhood, right in the center of violence is this safe place where the doors are always open and you are welcome.
Finally, Shawn shares his story of how the culinary arts program led him to employment.
Hi, my name is Shawn Reed, now known at the PBMR as "Chef Shawn"! I have been coming to PBMR since I was 15. I love this place; so many doors have been opened for me. … [I took] the 10 week Culinary Arts Program offered at PBMR with Chef Tony. I finished the program, earned a Certificate and donned my Chef Hat and Jacket. I felt proud with my Mother there for the celebration, a community judge and our staff and friends. It was an awesome day. Culinary is something I have always been interested in pursuing. As a kid being in the house around my Mom, watching her cook and later helping her -- I had a dream. Then I got the word from Sister Donna that Peaches Restaurant was interested in hiring me. … So we went to the restaurant, had lunch and met the manager. They called me for an interview and I was hired within a week! That was a huge opening for me because I so want to be a chef someday. I believe that door too will open!
These young men have often experienced doors being closed or even slammed shut for them. Today, due to the opportunities offered them at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, they see doors opening and they feel a sense that there is hope for a future of success.
[Donna Liette is a Precious Blood sister and works at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.]
A version of this blog previously appeared on the website of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. NCRonline presents the blog in collaboration with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.