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U. of C. study backs activists’ push for jobs for youths to reduce violence

The One Summer Chicago program has been saving grace for Zachary Robins22 Chatham. He had just gotten out Cook County

The One Summer Chicago program has been a saving grace for Zachary Robinson, 22, of Chatham. He had just gotten out of the Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp in April after serving eight months for attempted robbery when a counselor encouraged him to apply for the program, which offers a job and therapy. "I’m so thankful for this. If I didn’t get a job, I don’t know how I’d be getting money,” Robinson says. | Supplied photo

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Updated: September 8, 2013 6:26AM

For Timothy Arnold, 17, of West Pullman, One Summer Plus gave him his first job this summer.

For Zachary Robinson, 22, of Chatham, it was more of a saving grace.

Robinson had just gotten out of the Cook County Sheriff’s Boot Camp in April. A counselor there encouraged him to apply for the program, which offers a job and therapy.

“I’m so thankful for this. If I didn’t get a job, I don’t know how I’d be getting money,” said Robinson, who served eight months for attempted robbery.

He and Arnold are among 1,000 black males ages 16-24 — at least two-thirds of whom have previous arrests — hired through the city’s One Summer Plus program, which started last summer.

A study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab study found that the anti-violence program helped reduce arrests for violent crimes among the youths by 51 percent by providing jobs, therapy and mentoring in 2012.

The study of 1,634 mostly black youths in grades eight to 12 — selected from 13 Chicago Public Schools in areas plagued by high violence and poverty — provides breakthrough scientific evidence that jobs help reduce violence, the U. of C. study said.

Amen. Alleluia. That was the reaction Tuesday of community activists who have long advocated jobs as a remedy to Chicago’s inner city violence.

“I hope they didn’t pay a lot of money because we’ve been saying this forever,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has used recreation, counseling and jobs as antidotes to gang violence in St. Sabina’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood.

“There’s never been a doubt in my mind that a major solution to ending this violence is jobs, education, opportunities. We always knew it in the street,” he said. “Now that we know it from a university study, let’s do it. Let’s have a country that puts its focus and its attention on jobs and education.”

St. Sabina found jobs for 1,030 youths this summer through city- and state-funded programs, including One Summer Plus.

The social-emotional learning part of the program — copied from the lauded Becoming A Man program that a study this spring said showed a 44 percent drop in violent crime arrests among troubled teens in 18 CPS schools — was the critical element in One Summer Plus, officials said.

“We think the combination of jobs, plus mentoring, plus the cognitive behavioral therapy is a winning combination,” said Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services. “It can take a lot of forms. But the idea is to help teens control impulsive or automatic behavior.”

Arnold agrees. After a car accident made him late for work recently, his mentor helped him rein in frustration, he said.

“I wasn’t really good with people at first. I didn’t really like people,” Arnold said. “But now I enjoy it. I like the people I work with, and the group session where you can talk about things you’re going through, and get advice.”

President Barack Obama has taken an interest in the Becoming a Man program, which One Summer Plus is modeled on, since he sat in on one of those group sessions at Hyde Park Academy in February. Participants in that program and their families were welcomed at the White House in June.

Summer 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiative this summer that raised $42 million from the corporate community for similar programs targeting the city’s at-risk youth, will use the results of the new U. of C. study in evaluating future programs to fund, Diaz said.

The Summer 2013 program doled out $1.7 million to 11 nonprofits that served 3,300 youths from 23 neighborhoods this summer.

Alex Levesque, whose Automotive Mentoring Group has been teaching former gang members to rehab antique cars and their lives since 1993, has seen the effects of teaching life skills along with job skills.

“One of the things I say over and over when I talk to people about my program is that I don’t believe giving a person a job is going to solve a whole lot,” Levesque said.

“With this demographic we’ve long worked with, more important than a job is the job-readiness piece,” he said. “With mentoring, life skills, lives can change.”

Twitter: @maudlynei

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