Updated: Feb 24, 2022
It's not hard to come across a windy day in Chicago…in fact, it might be the most common type of day in this city. This Wednesday morning, La Villita Park welcomes us with a few rays of sun, but also with a wind that sneaks into our clothes. We are here to talk to members of our violence prevention team about some of the work that they do in our community. This work revolves around youth and their well-being.
La Villita Park is one of the nerve centers of the neighborhood, where youth and families gather to walk, talk, play and just generally enjoy the space. Each year since the park opened, Enlace has run spring and summer programming here; this has been even more true during the pandemic, as outdoor activities have been key. Victoria Battle is our Violence Prevention Support Manager, and her job is to support the development and implementation of programs across the team. “I would say the overall goal is to create a safe space for our young people – somewhere they can go and feel safe expressing themselves.”
During these last few months, the violence prevention team has offered a variety of programs; some engage the whole family, some bring girls together to focus on their specific needs, and some integrate arts and culture. All of these programs are the product of internal collaboration across the violence prevention team. “We are better together…you know…we are stronger together than just working alone or working in silos,” says Victoria.
Elizabeth, or Eli, Crisostomo is also a member of the team. She is a School-Based Counselor and, in this role, she provides individualized support to high school students. She is also the liaison for Enlace’s collaboration with My Block, My Hood, My City. Through this partnership, young people have the opportunity to enjoy group activities in and around the city. She explains, “I met Jahmal Cole – who is the founder of My Block, My Hood, My City – at the Green Tomato talking to people about mental health and he was like, ‘Ohhh…I want your kids to be in my program…’”
This collaboration has been active for two years, and Mireya, Miguel and Julie have participated the entire time. These three young people got connected with Eli and Enlace through Community Links, one of the local high schools that hosts School-Based Counselors. Julie says, “At first, I would not talk to anyone and I would get really freaked out about talking to strangers. After I started talking to Eli, I felt a little more comfortable with speaking to random strangers.”
Mireya also shares her experience with Eli as her Counselor and what it has meant to be part of the My Block, My Hood, My City group. “It was weird in a way because I never had anyone I could talk to, so talking to her was really weird for me. But then, eventually, I got more comfortable with her…(looking towards Eli) you helped me to point things out like, ‘this is a sign of anxiety,’ or…you know…identify things. And I feel now I can ask for help when I need it, more than I used to.”
For Miguel, doing different activities with Enlace and My Block, My Hood, My City has been super entertaining, and has opened doors to new hobbies such as skateboarding. He has also enjoyed boxing, rock climbing (especially reaching the highest point of the climb), going to the 360Chicago Observation Deck at the John Hancock Center, and trying different types of food and restaurants.
All three agree that everyone should know about these types of opportunities and programs. Julie says, “Even though it is uncomfortable at first because you don't know the people in it or you might know a few, after a while you start becoming very close to the group and it just feels safe in a way.” Victoria tells us that the violence prevention team intends to continue to offer this type of programming. “In the future the work is going to be very busy, but very exciting, and it is going to be filled with a lot of opportunities for our young people.”
The wind does not give up in La Villita Park, but the sun doesn’t stop shining either.