ALSO outreach worker, Eric George, reflects on the difference between when he was growing up in the Humboldt Park community in the 1990s and early 2000s - and today. “When I was growing up, you knew your next-door neighbors and people down the street,” he says. “These days, young people don’t have the guidance and leadership they are looking for.” One of the reasons, he says, is that there are so many “fatherless homes. Young people can get lost on the Internet – or on the streets. They may feel there are more opportunities in the streets, but some are chasing the wrong opportunities.”
That, he says, is where ALSO comes in.
George had been involved in various community activities with the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago (INVC), which is now one of ALSO’s partners in Communities Partnering 4 Peace, a partnership of leading outreach organizations working to impact Chicago communities most affected by gun violence. An outreach worker at INVC referred him to ALSO.
“When I walked through the door at ALSO, it felt like home because of the people here,” he says. “The thing about our team is that we’ve got each other’s backs. And with the Metropolitan Peace Academy [which trains street outreach workers in Chicago] we get the chance to learn about restorative justice, cognitive therapy and other issues related to this work.”
In February, George spoke to a group of participants in a Peace Circle that was part of ALSO’s 10-10-10 youth employment program. He was joined by Safe Streets Program Manager, Tony Raggs, and Marcus Davis, a former outreach worker for ALSO, who is now on the organization’s Resilience team. “We can’t keep going on the same path,” he told the group. “We can’t think things will change if we have the same habits.” The experience took him a long way from his first days at ALSO. “I’ve overcome a fear of public speaking since I started at ALSO,” he says.
“I love helping people see the powers they possess within themselves,” he says. “We don’t do the work – they do the work. We just give them the opportunity. My satisfaction comes from seeing people believing in themselves – saying ‘I can do it.’ We can’t give up on them.”
Working with participants in ALSO’s Safe Streets program, he says, means “meeting them where they’re at” and can involve connecting them to various resources in the community. He also provides transportation for participants to jobs, court dates, and other important appointments.
George is currently trying to help launch a pressure washing service that can clean porches, driveways, and more – and employ ALSO participants in the community.
Sometimes, he adds, ALSO connects participants to volunteer opportunities. “It can start with that, or with providing people with a meal.”
During COVID, George says, “it’s harder to make things happen. But we’re going to help them as much as we can. They need to know that they can trust us.”
George just got engaged and has a two-year-old son, a ten-year-old stepson, and an 11-year-old stepdaughter. “Soon I’ll bring the kids to work, maybe to a ‘Light in the Night’ event. Maybe one day my son will want to be an outreach worker.”
In his spare time, he also goes to a music studio in downtown Chicago, where he creates rap music. He says his music is related to what he does at ALSO. “With my music, like my work at ALSO, I feel I am speaking with a message about real-life situations in the community.”