Urban Life Skills nlcenters
Violence Prevention & Intervention
The Urban Life Skills Program is an intensive Gang Intervention Program in the Little Village Community on Chicago’s Southwest Side. For the past two years, the program has worked with over 75 gang involved youth that are wards of the Cook County Juvenile Court. The program is closely partnered with the Cook County Juvenile Probation Department and has seen many successes.
The program is founded upon mentoring. Each one of the youth that enter the program are assigned a mentor and then brought into the full array of services provided by the program. This gang intervention model is a comprehensive model based on a variety of key components. These components include mentoring, gang intervention counseling, substance abuse classes, art therapy, job readiness training, tutoring, GED classes, court advocacy, social activities, family support, and more.
Our Mission: To provide mentoring and advocacy to guide youth toward a new life and a new direction.
We envision Little Village’s youth and families transformed by hope, becoming men and women of character to create a flourishing, unified neighborhood.
For our mentors, ULS is not simply a job or a hobby, it is part of the fabric of their identity and lives. ULS mentors are not simply service providers or project managers, but are neighbors and community members with our youth and their families. Thus, our commitment extends beyond any probation contract or single mentoring relationship. When a shooting happens in the neighborhood, the mentors know about it not because a youth calls to tell them, but because it occurs in their own backyard. The ULS model only works when the mentors have a vested interest in the community. This often means that mentors live in the neighborhood, but it may mean they attend church there, grew up there, or have made a commitment to be part of the community. They know the ‘pulse’ of the neighborhood. We believe that being community-based in the single biggest reason ULS has been successful.
Urban Life Skills uses three approaches to mentoring youth throughout their time in the program: one-on-one mentoring, group mentoring, and team mentoring. These approaches to mentoring have been the most effective in decreasing risk factors and increasing protective factors for our youth, and extend beyond the reach of a typical mentoring program.
The mentors are the change agents within Urban Life Skills. ULS would not exist if it were not for the solid team of full-time staff and volunteer mentors who have given countless hours of their time to this program. We have a very diverse mentor team with a variety of backgrounds who provide and extensive pool of resources when it comes to guiding and training youth. No amount of networking or programming can replicate the power of a highly-committed, passionate mentor to transform a young person’s life.
A Restorative Justice Hub brings together various members of a community and systems that work with youth (e.g., parents, school, probation, judges) to create connections that otherwise would not exist. The ULS program tries to be the connecting hub for all of these services to operate on behalf of the youth.
Developing a network that supports positive life change
How does ULS mentorship help youth who are caught up in trouble?
From data in 2013-2014, youth involved in our program had a 33% recidivism rate, which is well below the national figures for similar populations.
Of those eligible during the data period, 75% of youth successfully completed probation without reoffending.
In 2015, we engaged over 500 at-risk and gang-affiliated youth, ages 13-24, in reconciliation, peace-making, and community building through sports-based youth development.
From 2013-2015, our mentors worked with 163 youth from our community.
In 25 years of studying efforts to stem youth violence, I know of no more important and comprehensive intervention work to gang members than that of the Urban Life Skills program. This faith-based organization is setting a new standard for how sacred-secular partnerships should work together in addressing and transforming individuals and communities.