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First Steps To A Safer Evanston

By Rachel C. Loyd

The rainy weather did not stop 125-plus youth, family and community members from enjoying food and games as they signed-up for summer programs at the June 11 Community Kick-off to a Fun and Safe Summer at Robert Crown Community Center. Community partners Y.O.U., McGaw YMCA, Family Focus Evanston, Ridgeville Park District, YWCA, All Our Sons and the City of Evanston offered opportunities to mentor, volunteer and participate in a safe summer. Among many other games at the Kick-off, youth enjoyed battles in tug of war. Seth Green, Y.O.U. executive director, and coordinator of the event, joked that he joined in the tug-of-war, but the young competitors were too strong for him.

“The violence that has occurred in the past few months has been a call to action, and the Kick-off was [part of] the beginning of the response,” Mr, Green said. “The Kick-off was a perfect start, and the community needs to sustain focus over time on building and maintaining caring relationships [with youth].”

Although he said the Kick-off was a good start, Mr. Green admitted that “there is still potential for a continuance of violence, but this can be an antidote…By bringing youth deep into summer programs, the community can create a nurturing environment.”

The Kick-off may have been a tug in the right direction, but most community leaders knew it was only the beginning. Mr. Green said he appreciates the 1,000 donors who have contributed to Evanston community organizations, and said “We [all community partners] can work together for a safer, stronger community. The hard work begins here.”

By Jessica Baum

Count Evanston Township High School among the Evanston institutions answering Mayor Tisdahl’s call for increased youth activity opportunities to make this summer safe.

“Keeping young people safe has to be the top priority of a community,” said ETHS superintendent, Dr. Eric Witherspoon. “I think all of us in the community must take the responsibility of keeping our children, keeping our youth safe.”

ETHS has not seen an uptick in violence this year, and compared to six to eight years ago, violence at ETHS has actually gone down. Dr. Witherspoon, however, found the April 15 shooting at McDonald’s very alarming. “If there is even one shooting of a young person, even one shooting in a public restaurant in this community, it’s one shooting too many,” he said. “Because of that shooting, because of that kind of stirring going on, we always run that risk that we could have more violence over the summer.”

In order to help keep students busy and safe this summer, ETHS has a variety of opportunities available to kids.

Summer School: Dr. Witherspoon said the switch to four-day weeks summer school in order to save energy actually worked out greatly in “our favor.” The four-day weeks cause summer school to extend an extra week into the summer, which “gives kids safe and worthwhile things to do in the summer for an even longer period of time,” said Dr. Witherspoon. He added that over the course of the summer about half of the students enrolled – approximately 1,500 students – in ETHS will be participating in summer school.

Sports camps: ETHS will be offering around 75 sports camps for students to participate this summer. Though these require a fee to participate in, Dr. Witherspoon said that financial assistance is offered.

Space: ETHS is giving space to Y.O.U. to use for a summer program free of charge. They are also working with the City to offer open gyms for students. ETHS already has open gyms Monday through Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. for athletes. The open gyms for non-athletes would be offered at the same times in different gyms, Dr. Witherspoon said. However, this is still a work in progress.

Both Dr. Witherspoon and the high school staff say they will continue to spread the message for students to stand up to violence. “Don’t be silent. Speak up, tell somebody… if you even think something could happen that might cause injury to another person, report it… never sit back and know about something and take no action,” Dr. Witherspoon said.

Dr. Witherspoon said he believed the school year ended on a very good note with little tension, and he thought that was a good sign. “I see some hopeful signs,” he said. “But I don’t think we can let down our efforts at all.”

Safe Summer at the Y

By Mick VaughtThe McGaw Y participated in the Safe Summer Summit and Lori Siegel, the associate executive director, Youth Development, said that they hope to get more Evanston youths actively involved at the Y this summer.

The Y attended the Summit as a community partner, and along with their usual summer programs, Ms. Siegel said that, with the support of the City and Y.O.U., they plan to make their facilities available to youths on Friday nights during the summer.

“”Our hope is if we can get transportation provided through the City and in conjunction with the Evanston Rec buses that we’ll be able to continue this on an ongoing basis every Friday night this summer,”” said Ms. Siegel. “”The transportation is an important component.””

Ms. Siegel said youth violence has been an issue and that the mayor has put an emphasis on it. However, she added that there are not a lot of safe, productive things for youths in the community that are free.

“”If we can create something this summer where we can provide positive outlets…engaging them in positive activities with mentors or community members is a positive thing,”” said Ms. Siegel.

The Y also participated in the Community Kick-Off to a Fun and Safe Summer on June 11. She said their goal there was to inform those in attendance that the Y is planning to host events for middle school youth’s this summer.

“”It was a good experience,”” said Ms. Siegel. “”We did have people come in, they were engaged, asking questions, and we did have people pick up membership information.””

She also added that their summer programs, such as Camp Echo and the Summer Adventure Club, are nearly full to capacity, but they know there is a group not being addressed.

“”What are youth doing on the weekends?”” asked Ms. Siegel. “”Why do you have to pay for the beach? It is just one more obstacle for youths.””

This summer the Evanston Public Library is also allowing people to check out beach passes.

“”[The Library is] a free open site, an air conditioned site,”” said Ms. Siegel. “”Anybody can come in and participate in this.””