Mentor's Goal: Keeping At-Risk Teens Alive In one of the most ambitious mentoring programs in the country, Chicago Public Schools are assigning paid mentors to teens at risk of becoming victims of gun violence. Under the $20 million program, mentors counsel the teenagers in and out of school, help them find jobs and teach them life skills.
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A Mentor's Goal: Keeping At-Risk Chicago Teens Alive

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A Mentor's Goal: Keeping At-Risk Chicago Teens Alive

A Mentor's Goal: Keeping At-Risk Chicago Teens Alive

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

As we conclude our series, NPR's David Schaper reports on a mentoring program that is one of the most ambitious in the country.

DAVID SCHAPER: Project director Jonathan Moy says the probability model isn't perfect.

M: But approximately half the victims who have been shot this year were identified using the probability model.

SCHAPER: To reduce those awful odds, the school system is now assigning paid advocates and mentors to the teens identified to be most at risk of becoming victims of gun violence - mentors such as Albert Stinson.

M: Hey, what's up? How are you feeling, bro?

SCHAPER: The 38-year-old Stinson walks through the lunchroom at his alma mater, Marshall High School, on Chicago's west side, greeting boys wearing Marshall's uniforms of maroon polo shirts and khaki pants.

M: Yeah, that's another one of my mentees right there. You know, I come and check on them, 'cause, like I said, they was a part of that big gang fight last year. So, I always got to come and see what's going on in the lunchroom sometime. Want to make sure, you know, my guys ain't into no type of squabbles and things like that.

SCHAPER: Stinson says he's looking for signs that his boys might be agitated or angry.

M: And when I go up to them and ask them how they doing, it's a certain look. Just from being in the neighborhood, you know it. If somebody looking a certain way, it's kind of like they're more in an aggressive mode.

SCHAPER: Back in the classroom that serves as the mentors' office, the solidly built Stinson says the fact that he's from this neighborhood and graduated from this very school 20 years ago gives him credibility with the teens.

M: I have the same background. I was them. And that's one thing I use to my advantage because I know what it feels to be affiliated in the court system. But I also know what it feels like to grow and that's what I'm getting them to look at when they set visionary goals - that you can grow from the dirt that's out there.

SCHAPER: It's the kind of attention 17-year old Antonio Fox is just warming up to.

M: You need a person to talk to before you do something stupid. You need a mentor or somebody on your side to say something: Man, don't do this, don't do that. Sometimes, you ain't going to listen but you got to listen, so you won't get in trouble.

SCHAPER: But Antonio says he now knows how fistfights can quickly escalate to gun battles, and says he doesn't want to be a part of it anymore.

M: I want to live to see everything. My kids grow up, their kids grow up. I want to see everything. I want to see all that. I want to see them graduate, go to college. Man, I want to see them be more than who I am.

SCHAPER: But just an hour or so later, Antonio was out in the hallway picking a fight.

M: Ay, where's my money, man?

U: I don't know what you're talking about, Tonio.

U: Antonio, Tony, come here.

M: Have my money, man.

SCHAPER: And mentor Albert Stinson runs out to try to calm him down.

M: Hey...

M: Where is my money, man? I ain't trying to hear that, man.

M: Tonio. Hey, it don't even have to be like that.

SCHAPER: His anger is raw and explosive, and Stinson has his hands full.

M: You don't have to - hey, Tonio - you don't have to disrespect the brother like that, Tonio, 'cause it's not that serious about two dollars, Tonio.

SCHAPER: No punches are thrown, but the shouting continues for more than 10 minutes, and Antonio is still furious.

M: Ain't nobody fronting. How are you going to try and say you're going to bash somebody...

SCHAPER: Stinson eventually calms him down and walks Antonio to class.

M: You ready man? Come back down. We're going to take care of that.

U: Antonio, hello.

M: How you doing?

U: Good. How are you?

M: Just was a little bit of a situation. I had to bring him down so I'm just making sure he come back to class.

U: Everything OK?

M: Yeah. You going to be good, man? Yeah, you smiling, man. Go into class, man.

SCHAPER: As he walks away, Stinson says this of Antonio:

M: He'll be all right. I trust him.

SCHAPER: Stinson says the boys he's mentoring only seem to know how to react in the worst way.

M: It's basically like we've got to recondition them because they was never shown certain life skills. And that's an unfortunate part, because when they haven't, you know, they're not shown certain life skills, they reaction is, they just want to react, you know what I mean? So, it's no critical thinking in that, because they've never been shown how to just sit down and try to think things through because everything is so reactionary. And so it's just, you have to put in so much work and it's a process.

SCHAPER: With some of the guys he's mentoring, though, Stinson says he is seeing some signs of progress. He sees them taking more accountability for their actions, and he says he sees that they are more aware of and trying to avoid what Stinson calls the traps facing young black males.

M: Brother E.

U: Yes, sir.

M: This young fella got something to tell you.

SCHAPER: And at the end of the day, Antonio comes back to mumble an apology.

M: Hey, I got out of line with you, man... (Unintelligible)

SCHAPER: David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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