Eighteen Ricks College students hope they've made a difference in the lives of the boys and girls they worked with in the Chicago Inner-City Youth Program this past summer.
The program, which was created by a group of concerned LDS professionals in the Chicago area two years ago, helps youth discover they don't have to be governed by the negative forces of their environment. Set during the summer months, the prime recruiting time for gangs, the program is open to boys and girls ages 9 to 13, many of whom have been encouraged to attend by their bishops.Ricks College students who major in sociology, social work, criminal justice or psychology act as camp counselors to the youth. The young men work with boys at the "Summer Quarters" camp located at the Pleasant Valley outdoor Center one hour from Chicago. The young women counselors work with girls who attend daylong programs, called the "Lucy Mack Smith Summer Jam" at the Hyde Park/Ryan Woods LDS meetinghouse in the city. Many of the participants are members of the Church and also bring their non-LDS relatives and friends.
Activities at the boys' camp included work projects, career exploration, hikes, fishing trips, crafts and academic enhancement. The girls participated in theater, dance and exercise classes, attended workshops on hygiene and poise, and went on field trips where they met women from different walks of life.
Both programs are designed to build learning skills, positive self-esteem and teamwork abilities, said Creg Ostler of Chicago, chairman of the program. Those founding the program include Brother Ostler and his wife, Sondra, and Phil Stoker, Catherine Stokes, Peter and Charlotte Johnston, Victor and Hattie Soil, and Michael and Rebecca Phillips, all of Chicago.
Many of the inner-city youth have lost family members or friends to gang violence and are uncertain about their own future. The Ricks students hope to show them a facet of life removed from the adversity they experience in the city, Brother Ostler said. Some are uncertain about their own future and don't feel motivated to prepare for adulthood, he said.
"I can read as much as I want to in books, but it's never the same until you experience first-hand what you've been learning," said counselor June Wagner from Seattle, Wash. "These girls live in housing projects and deal regularly with shootings and gangs. I see it on the news and in the movies, but when you're in the middle of it, it becomes reality."
J.D. Rottweiler, a member of the Ricks sociology and criminal justice faculty who advised the Ricks students at the boys camp, said the program has had an outstanding impact in his classroom. "It was a hands-on experience where I saw the emotional roller coaster with which people in the inner-city struggle. It was a life-changing experience for everyone involved - academically, physically and spiritually."
Working with the inner-city youth has been an eye-opening experience for many of the Ricks counselors. Kristine Applegate from South Jordan, Utah, was quickly educated about the living conditions in the city. "I had the privilege of growing up with a big yard, but these youth don't. It's unsafe for them to
playT outside," she said. "They don't have the chance to be a carefree kid.
"It's hard for me to comprehend the fear they have. One boy said he can't go outside because he doesn't want to get caught in crossfire," said Ricks student Kurtis Hyde of Lovelock, Nev. Kurtis said he was amazed the youth were so untrusting. "They are very untrusting because they've had trust broken so many times in their lives." He said the most rewarding time he had was when a 13-year-old boy introduced him to the boy's mom as his best friend at the camp.
Although the counselors only spent three weeks with the youth, they feel they have made a difference in their lives. "Even if it's just a good memory, that is something they can draw on later," said Ricks student Karyn Mann of Rexburg.
Stephen Stokes, a member of the sociology and criminal justice faculty at Ricks who supervised the students at the girls' camp, believes the program has an impact in the lives of the youth. "It gives the youth an opportunity to leave a hostile environment, to get away from the gangs. They are given a different role model and a type of vision to work toward in their lives."
Counselor Tamu Smith of Fresno, Calif., grew up in the inner city and thought she knew what to expect as she worked with the girls. "It's different here," she said. "Things are a lot more intense for this generation." Tamu's husband, Keith, also from Fresno, was a counselor too. "This experience has taught me the importance of families and the need for positive reinforcement," he said. "I need to improve my own relationship with my wife and with my children when we begin our family."
The Ricks students unanimously said it's been the experience of a lifetime. "The girls have taught me so much more than I could ever teach them," said Karyn. "They taught me that I have much to be grateful for. Instead of always looking at what I don't have, I need to think more about all that I do have."
The Ricks counselors were instructed and accompanied by Ed Malstrom, chairman of the Ricks College Division of Behavioral and Social Science; and faculty members Brother Rottweiler and Brother Stokes. The students earned up to nine summer credits in such areas as social problems, urban sociology, race and minority relations, leadership and religion. During the monthlong program, the Ricks students worked with as many as 80 inner-city youth.
Perhaps Ricks student Boyd Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, summed up the programs best when he said: "When we learn from children we learn what life is really like. They have made a difference in my life and given me hope for the future. It's been an experience I'll never forget."