A Win-Win for Everyone

March 26, 2014

In 2012 and 2013, the Diocese of Chicago and partners across Chicagoland held public processions from the Gold Coast to Stroger Hospital to remember young people who have died in Chicago's epidemic of violence. Thousands of people turned out for the events, called CROSSwalk.

After last year's procession, organizers began talking about how to convert participants' passion into lasting action on behalf of young people who are at risk for violence. Last November at diocesan convention, the team unveiled its new initiative: CROSSwalk to Work.

"Nothing stops a bullet like a job," says the Rev. Dr. Bonnie Perry, rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church and CROSSwalk steering committee member. By working with Youth Guidance, which serves more than 14,000 at-risk youth in Chicago public and charter schools, CROSSwalk hopes to provide 50 summer jobs for young people ages 16-19 who have successfully completed the organization's employment readiness training.

Recently Bishop Jeff Lee asked leaders from around the diocese for their help in finding jobs. Robin Zafirovski, a member of Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest and Anne Saunders, a member of Holy Nativity in Clarendon Hills, have answered the call.

"We strongly believe in educating and developing our young people, both inside and outside the classroom," says Zafirovski. "The CROSSwalk to Work program provides a learning environment outside of the classroom. The opportunity to be employed and to be exposed to new situations, environments, careers and people is just one of the small benefits of this imaginative program."

"Every company ought to want to help in a proactive way rather than after the fact when we're dealing with crime, dropout rates, and the effects of violence," says Saunders. "This is a positive way to help, and a better alternative than throwing up your hands or figuring out how many prisons we need to build. Who doesn't want another taxpayer?"

Youth Guidance, which also partners with Episcopal Charities and Community Services and Christ Episcopal Church in Winnetka, has trained staff who will support the CROSSwalk to Work youth, who are all part of Youth Guidance's Youth Workforce Development program. But since many are new to the workplace, businesses should also be prepared to provide jobs that are appropriate for interns or lower-skilled, entry-level people and on-site supervision and direction, says Sarah Jordan, CROSSwalk intern.

Ryan McGuire, an analyst at Avia, a firm in the Abundant Venture Partners portfolio that facilitates collaboration between healthcare providers and entrepreneurs, is one employer considering how to get involved with CROSSwalk to Work.

"We believe in sustainable leadership, in giving back to the community," says McGuire. "We've been looking across our portfolio of companies hoping to find the right opportunities for students. If we're able to give back to the community, youth are a great place to start because they're our future. By providing meaningful opportunities and skill sets, we'll all receive dividends. It's a win-win for everyone involved."

To learn more about CROSSwalk to Work, visit the Diocese of Chicago's website or talk with Sarah Jordan.