SOLUTIONS: Chicago teens have places to go this summer | Chaz’s Diary

Chicago teens have places to go this summer

Here’s a simple call to action for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others: Ask a child or teen what they do after school is out, then help them apply for the one of the city’s many programs.

By Mary Ellen Caron, Mimi LeClair, Mary Ann Mahon-Huels

As we head into summer, Chicago teenagers are once again getting a bad rap and paying a heavy price for it. It happens every year as the weather warms and the school year draws to a close: local youth, without productive opportunities, come together and make headlines.

Large, downtown gatherings — like the one that tragically led to a teenager being shot and killed in Millennium Park, allegedly by another teenager — are not acceptable. And unfortunately, they are not surprising either.

While this happened before the pandemic, the situation is worse now with additional risk factors.

Just like us, teenagers want to get out of the house. Just like us, they need social connection. Add to that a growing crisis in the mental health of young people, with rising rates of anxiety, depression and suicide – as well as increased financial and food insecurity in families due to the pandemic – and it is difficult to hope it will be a peaceful summer for Chicago youth.

As longtime Chicago journalist Justin Kaufmann recently wrote in his column, “Chicago keeps telling teenagers where they can’t go. Maybe it’s time to tell them where they can.

Bingo. This is where we can all help.

Our organizations have, together, more than 150 years of experience with after-school and summer programs for children and teens in Chicago. Time and time again, we’ve seen how, with a little support—whether it’s a program, a caring mentor, or just a helping hand—young people open up, see their esteem self, then flourish.

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