ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Research shows that kids who grew up with domestic violence are three times more likely to repeat the cycle in adulthood and are 74% more likely to commit a violent crime.

That is why programs targeting youth are important in the community. The YMCA of Rock River Valley offers an after-school program that provides a safe and supportive environment for kids while helping them gain college and career-needed skills.

Sounds of children laughing and playing filled the room at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard in Rockford. The YMCA of Rock River Valley has teamed up with the church to make it a safe haven for kids.

It is located right across the street from West Middle School, which makes it the perfect place for their after-school program.

“It’s wonderful to have, you know, 50 kids or more here every day after school, and it becomes a safe place for kids to come after school,” said Pastor Eric Lemonholm of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard. “It really becomes home for them or a second home in the neighborhood.”

Kamrin Muhammad, YMCA’s executive director of college and career readiness, said that the “Y” prioritizes youth development and helps steer kids towards success, especially now as the community recovers from the pandemic and deals with a spike in youth crime.

“When you’re looking at the statistics, it’s no doubt that there’s a lot of gun violence,” Muhammad said. “There’s a lot of just different crime that’s taking place at the hands of our young youth, and that’s because, we feel like at the “Y”, they don’t have enough productive options.”

The free after-school program is open to kids throughout the community and focuses on engaging them in positive activities.

“The kids come here right after school and they get a meal, and they get help with homework, and they get to do some fun activities and exercise,” Lemonholm said. “They even do things like yoga and that kind of thing. Just different opportunities to socialize, and they’re supervised by caring adults.”

Mentors provide academic and emotional support at a time when many could use the extra help.

“Just being able to help them with identifying what they’re going through and being able to express that, and to be able to navigate and to work through that and not let that hinder their growth,” Muhammad said.

Organizers said that they focus on giving students the tools they need to become successful leaders. Speakers from various professions are brought in to share their experiences to spark excitement in career opportunities.

“They are able to go beyond just their zip codes, and that they’re able to be whatever profession that they want to be, whether they’re going to college and they’re becoming, like, a doctor or a lawyer. Or, we have a lot of kids that expressed interest in entrepreneurship. We’re also trying to offer exposure in the trades,” Muhammad said. “So, basically, we just want to help them with figuring out what it is that they want to do as they transition out of being an adolescent to a young adult.”

The church and the “Y” have worked out a deal for the “Y” to take over the building and expand youth programming.

If you are a survivor of domestic or sexual violence, visit our Stateline Strong page for resources.