Outreach centers offer programs for at-risk Rockford teens as alternative to violence

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — After two people were killed, and four others wounded in Tuesday night shootings in Rockford, local non-profit outreach centers are begging at-risk youth to turn to them instead of resorting to street violence.

“We want to be a part of the solution, of being a positive impact to our youth, seeing the statistics with our youth that are currently in school, and some of the struggles there, and seeing the uptick in violent crimes nationally,” said YMCA Rockford’s Senior Director of Equality and Inclusion, James Brooks II.

Brooks says organizations like the YMCA have noticed the spike in violence in Rockford. Last year, the Y brought back its “Teen Reach” program.

“The Teen Reach program, which is geared towards at-risk youth and youth in general…is a facet of the …program, which is geared, academically, towards college preparation,” he said.

For some teens, Brooks says transportation can be a barrier, something the YMCA provides.

“With wanting to elevate our engagement with the West and Northwest community here in Rockford, being able to provide ways of transportation, or means of getting students to and from the program, can enrich their youthful experience.”

Chip Stoner, the CEO of the Rockford Boys and Girls Club, says it’s essential that their facilities are located in the areas where they’re needed the most.

“We have trained mentors and staff that do that each and every day, to try and help our young people stay out of trouble, but if they do get in a situation, they know how to get out of it,” Stoner said.

He added that the number of teens the Boys and Girls Club saw declined during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“Pre-Covid, we were serving 650 to 700 kids a day, and obviously, with Covid, that impacted our numbers,” he said. “But, our numbers this summer did rebound. And, I expect them to continue during the school year.”

Both organizations say they can only help once a teen walks through their doors.

“We gotta get kids back doing things,” Stoner said. “And the more activities they have at the Boys and Girls Club, at school, at other organizations, that’s the best thing for this community.”

Programs at both the YMCA and Rockford Boys and Girls Club are free.

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