The Salvation Army Adele and Robert Stern Red Shield Center has started a new weekly mentoring program – Celebrate Launch and Landing – designed to support youth, teens and families in one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods. The program combines group support, one-on-one mentoring and worship to help Englewood residents address issues arriving from poverty, hunger, violence, lack of education, homelessness and more.
After a short musical worship session, a leader will begin the meeting with a discussion aimed to inspire the group. Captain Nikki Hughes, corps officer at the Red Shield Center, spoke about growing up in poverty. “There were days we didn’t have power, so we ate whatever was in a can….peas, canned ravioli, spam.” Captain Hughes asked how many people in the room have eaten Spam. She opens the container and takes a bite. “I’ve been where you are. I understand it,” she said. She reminded the group that just because they grew up in poverty or hardship doesn’t mean they have to stay in it. “There is better for you. You can start by making goals and small steps.”
In addition to addressing large-scale problems in the neighborhood, the group also works through everyday issues children face. Mya Rydberg, 10, has spoken about being teased by a boy in her class. Her mentoring group discussed ways she could deal with the situation. “He was saying mean things to me and things that weren’t true. At first I ignored him. And then I asked him to stop,” Mya said. “And then I told Mr. Al that he was still doing it, so Mr. Al talked to him and it stopped.”
Rydberg says she always feels better after leaving the group. “I like it. I feel better. They’re like my second family. They listen to me and help me with my issues.” Through The Salvation Army Celebrate Launch and Landing program, Rydberg has certainly re-gained her self-esteem. She’s even made a vision board which depicts her graduating from a top college as valedictorian and going on to be a prosecutor.
Clients participating in Celebrate Launch and Landing can access The Salvation Army’s wide range of services including substance abuse treatment, food pantry, utility assistance, spiritual support, Pathway of Hope, emergency assistance and more. This weekly gathering is free and on Wednesdays from 5:00pm – 6:00pm.