Eighteen-year-old Heaven and Erika Jackson, her Chicago Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc. Advocate-mentor, are proof that solutions to gun violence exist. Their faces and voices are among those in the opening video at a Feb. 15 Chicago public forum called, Cities Striving for Peace: What Chicago Can Learn from Five Big-City Mayors who Successfully Lowered Gun Violence.
The event is hosted by Chicago CRED & InVEST Campaign. Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) was created in 2016 by Emerson Collective, a social impact organization founded and run by Laurene Powell Jobs, along with former U.S. Education Secretary and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan.
YAP is a nationally recognized, nonprofit organization that partners with Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities, Education and Adult Systems to provide safe, community-based alternatives to youth incarceration and other out-of-home placements.
Heaven is a mom to a one-year-old little girl. Erika became her YAP Advocate through a partnership with Chicago Beyond, another programmatic answer to gun violence representing hope at the forum. Heaven said she had been involved in a domestic dispute that could have escalated, putting her at risk for being involved in the justice system. Erika provides Heaven with intensive mentoring, sometimes 14 hours a week, encouraging her and connecting her to career and life skills resources. When Erika began helping Heaven identify and realize her strengths, they were both pleasantly surprised they had a lot in common. Heaven’s dream is to be a phlebotomist, a job Erika held for years before she retired.
For now, with support from Erika, Heaven is making career progress. She recently moved from her Popeye’s job to working in security. Meantime, Erika’s walking her through the steps towards her end goal -- to work in law enforcement as phlebotomist. Heaven and Erika will join Chicago YAP Advocates, youth, families and staff proudly wearing YAP t-shirts at the Striving for Peace event.
Former mayors in attendance include Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles; Betsy Hodges, Minneapolis; Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans; Michael Nutter, Philadelphia; Adrian Fenty Washington, DC.
YAP partners with Chicago’s Children Home + Aid and the University of Chicago Crime Lab for Chicago’s Choose to Change program. YAP’s neighborhood-based Advocates are paid mentors who provide intensive, individual and family advocacy that empowers and supports young people and their families with tools to help them identify and realize their strengths, firm their foundation and give back to their communities.