Gerardo’s Volunteering Experience

Apr 24, 2024

StandUp for Kids – Chicago

Volunteering at StandUp For Kids has given me the opportunity to give back to the community where I grew up and to help out disadvantaged youth that could have easily been me, if I only had made a couple more poor choices in my young life.

My experience with mentoring the at risk and homeless youth at StandUp for Kids has taught me that nobody is immune to hard times.   It is how we react to hard times that will make the greatest impact on our lives in the years to come.   These homeless and at risk youth were never taught how to properly engage with their circumstances.   For example, conflict resolution was never effectively taught…life skill development was also never effectively taught.  Job, hunting and the ability to maintain a job was never taught to them by parents, guardians or otherwise.  I help in teaching / mentoring these young individuals, that before anything changes in their lives, they must hold themselves accountable for their own wrongdoings.  Then they can more accurately identify why things are not working  out for them.

Many of the youth that run the streets of Chicago are afflicted by staying safe and going hungry.  Many times the two, are mutually exclusive and as a result, the youth gravitate towards joining a gang for survival.   Some are so dedicated to the gang that they tattoo gang signs all over their body including their faces.   I was fortunate enough to have good conversations with several of these youth and discovered that some of them had hidden talents that were never nurtured or developed.   My colleagues and I including Fred and several others began the effort to bring forth their  hidden talents which became very therapeutic for them as well as got the youth thinking more seriously about their future and considered making life changes.

We found that one of the leaders of these young people has a gift for writing, while others are gifted at music and others still, we discovered, have an artistic eye and exceptional artistic abilities.  Despite their personal issues, it has been a privilege  and an honor to work with and to serve these young people.   I only wish we had a bit more time to help them develop the necessary skills to reintroduce them back into society.   For that, we would need the help of more professional volunteers that can help in the area of psychology and a new, larger and more dynamic space that could work in tandem with other centers and shelters.

The streets are rough, especially in the winter months and we have worked with many kids that develop a kind of PTSD over time from being out there too long.  It is only natural after fighting for your life for so long, that these youth forget that not every fight has to be physical or verbal and sometimes a simple conversation and coming to an understanding will resolve a problem as well.

That being said, it is important to remember that any one of our own children may fall victim to the streets of Chicago someday, and God forbid they do,  they should be guided in the right direction, by patient, understanding and committed people that will stop at nothing to ensure that they find their way back home.

– Gerardo