Young people, like Erika Garcia, find a safe space where they can learn job-seeking skills and talk with peers about real-life issues. Groups that provide services to survivors of sexual assault learn about effective strategies in the field. Community-based organizations partner to support street outreach work and reduce violence in Chicago. All of these things are vital parts of what ALSO is about. ALSO works in partnership with people living in risk of violence to promote safer streets and homes.
ALSO works with communities that are resilient, but these communities are not playing on a level playing field. They need far more community-based programs and services that meet their needs – and more responsive public policies. Marginalized communities, particularly Black and Brown communities, face a range of persisting inequities that have deepened in the wake of Covid-19, protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, and rising unemployment. “We continue our work to prevent violence in streets and homes,” says Lori Crowder, Executive Director of ALSO. “But lasting change will only occur if policies address the structure, inequities, racism, and oppression that prevent communities from thriving.”
One key issue for the people we serve is youth disconnection – the number of youth who are out of work and out of school. For years, the Chicago’s Humboldt Park community that ALSO serves has had one of the highest rates of youth disengagement of any community in the country. While the overall youth engagement rate has improved nationally in recent years, the urgency of what is at stake is growing. In June of this year, the report A Decade Undone: Youth Disconnection in the Age of Coronavirus concluded that “the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will erase these gains.”
Start with Relationships
On a program level, ALSO’s work addresses inequities with the people and communities we serve. Erika Garcia, who participated in ALSO’s 10-10-10 youth employment program this year, reflected on her experience in the program. “Since Covid started, so many young people are unemployed, and there’s more violence in the community,” says Garcia, who hopes to take online classes this fall at a city college. “This program helps youth think positively. I had a chance to talk to peers and do exercises that teach how to think before you react. And I learned from staff who come from communities affected by violence. We need more programs like this one.”
The 10-10-10 program is part of ALSO’s Safe Streets program, which works with youth and other community residents in Humboldt Park. Safe Streets staff directly engage with participants, learn about their needs, mentor them, and, when appropriate, refer them to ALSO’s case management team to link them to appropriate resources. The program also emphasizes how community violence and domestic violence are connected, a focus of ALSO’s work through its “Red Flags Relationships” trainings.
In Chicago, ALSO and other leading street outreach organizations address inequities together in their work with Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P), a partnership of community-based organizations that jointly impact Chicago communities most affected by gun violence.
Crowder says that organizations and communities affected by violence need greater support and opportunities. “We believe an equitable and safer society is achievable,” she says. “It starts with how we work with communities. We like to say we try to ‘meet people where they are at.’ The people we work with are resilient – and deserve a society where they are safe and have the same opportunities as everyone else.”