22 Mar 2019

Metropolitan Peace Academy: Graduation for Street Outreach Workers

Metropolitan Peace Academy:
Graduation for Street Outreach Workers

For ALSO street outreach workers Christine Escalera and Terry Gage, who work with program participants to stem violence in Humboldt Park, the job is about being there for people in need.

On February 28, Christine and Terry were among 24 street outreach workers who graduated from a recently launched training program offered by the Metropolitan Peace Academy,  a training ground committed to professionalizing the roles associated with the street outreach community. The graduation was held at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago.

The Peace Academy is a project of Communities Partnering for Peace (CP4P), which features ALSO and seven other leading outreach organizations who have combined their expertise to jointly impact nine Chicago communities most impacted by gun violence. In addition to Christine and Terry, Rolando Otero, Outreach Supervisor for ALSO’s Safe Streets Violence Prevention Program, also graduated from the Academy on February 28.

“The training gave us new information that we can use and helped us do our jobs in a more strategic way,” says Rolando. “It told us what we already know, but through a professional lens. For example, with many of the kids we work with, you can't just tell them what to do. You have to know how to approach them, and we talked about how to do that.”

Jorge Matos, Associate Director of Outreach Programs at ALSO, graduated from the first cohort of the Academy last year. “The Academy is building a citywide network of outreach workers,” he says. “It’s a place where we can learn how others are doing their work - and how to think outside the box. It’s a way of professionalizing street outreach.”

“Street outreach workers are doing hard work on the street, but are often not recognized,” says Vanessa Dereef, training manager of the Academy. Dereef has a background in education, counseling and professional development, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in industrial psychology at Adler University in Chicago. “The outreach community is very impactful and is vital to our communities. This experience - bringing people together at the Academy - reminds us that by ourselves, yes, we can have an impact,” she says. “But collectively look how much we can do.”

Dereef adds that the Academy reflects a “collaborative process that needs the expertise of the outreach workers and participating organizations to shape its curriculum.”

The training, which is held weekly for a full day over 18 weeks and often includes guest speakers, covers a wide range of topics, including restorative justice, structural violence, community building and self-care for outreach workers, who are often trying to navigate stressful circumstances in their work. Dereef says that one of the most thought-provoking lessons for students in the recent cohort addressed “isms,” including racism, classism and sexism. “You want people to say what they feel about these topics,” she says.

ALSO street outreach staff Eric George, Fred Wallace and DeCarlos Toro are participating in the Academy in the spring of 2019. Three more ALSO staff members will participate later in the year.

Metropolitan Peace Academy graduation. From left to right: Terry Gage, ALSO street outreach worker; Jorge Matos, Associate Director of Outreach Programs, Christine Escalera, ALSO street outreach worker, and Rolando Otero, Outreach Supervisor of ALSO's Safe Streets Violence Prevention Program. Terry, Christine and Rolando graduated from the Metropolitan Peace Academy's training program for the street outreach community on February 28.

Meanwhile, Christine, who is also helping ALSO’s national team address the needs of in-risk women, says that going through the training with professionals from other organizations gave her a chance to learn from the experience of others. “We all want to help, but we have to do that when a participant is ready. We have to meet people where they’re at - and not take things personally.”

She adds that “this job is about being on call and being ready. We know what it’s like to work in these communities and what can happen. It helped to be part of a group and learn about ways we can do this work.”

Terry Gage says that one thing he learned more about at the Academy was that “violence is a disease.The public health approach to violence has really jumped out for me. Violence is a learned disease, and it can be changed.”

He adds that this experience reinforced what he has learned as an outreach worker “You can’t give up on people,” he says. “That’s so important in outreach work - keep trying.”

For more information, contact Jorge Matos, Director of Safe Streets at ALSO, at jmatos@also-chicago.org

Recap:

The Metropolitan Peace Academy in Chicago is a training ground committed to professionalizing the roles associated with the street outreach community.

Four ALSO staff members have graduated from the Academy and three more ALSO staff will participate in the Academy later this year.

The Peace Academy is a project of Communities Partnering 4 Peace, which features ALSO and seven other leading outreach organizations who have combined their expertise to jointly impact nine Chicago communities most impacted by gun violence.

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