Teenagers from the Peoria Park District’s Elite Design program went back to school shopping on Monday after spending the summer working with mentors looking to keep the kids on the right track.
The program focuses on at-risk children in the community by pairing them with mentors who have “been there, done that and regret that” according to the program’s founder Carl Cannon.
“We can share with them that’s it’s bad but we can also let them know that as bad as it is it can also get worse prison, death but it can also get better. The way forward is you applying yourself, taking that step,” Cannon said.
For Taron Lawson, 15, joining the program helped him focus on staying in school but it has not made him immune to the recent violence that has plagued the River City.
“I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen most everything, people getting shot, robbed. I have seen a lot of good but also a lot of bad to be as young as I am,” Lawson said.
The group works on being respectful, responsible and giving back among other things. But they also talk candidly about the acts of violence that they see day-to-day.
“[The kids] will let you know that they hear gunshots every night for the people that are on the other side of War Memorial that is not a reality for them,” Game Changer and mentor for Elite Design George Lewis said.
“For these kids that just want to live their lives and they are standing waiting of the bus they have to deal with the reality that someone might come shooting looking for someone on the block.”
Twelve-year-old Aq’Tavius Yarbrough says even though hearing gunshots is normal in his neighborhood he is still scared.
“Bullets don’t got no names, people just shoot,” he said. “It makes me shocked because I have brothers and sisters and there are some people who have lost their brothers and sisters.”
The group also talks about what they think can be done to help curb the violence.
“I would like to see more people coming together instead of more people killing more people,” Lawson said. “More people coming together, more young people getting jobs instead of being in the streets having nothing to do, instead of people dropping out people going to school. I want to see more positive instead of negative.”