A mentoring program in Chicago is trying to reach as many teens as possible during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the goal of helping to guide them away from a life of crime.
The program's mission is especially important in these trying times, as Chicago police continue to see an increase in carjackings involving teens.
Christian Terry credits the CHAMPS Male Mentoring Program for changing his life.
"I went through the program and I know the work is very true," he said. "I understand you cannot have one foot in and one foot out."
Terry was just 14 years old when he joined the mentoring program and now serves as the program's director.
"If you engage them and try to teach them step by step that's all they need is just the guidance," he said.
The mentoring program started at Gary Comer College Prep. Its founder told NBC 5 he had a rough childhood growing up.
"My mom and my father they had me when they were teenagers," said Vondale Singleton. "My mom was 15 and my father was 19."
Singleton said his mother was hooked on drugs when he was younger. She died when he was 14 years old, and his dad was sent to prison.
"I was told at an early age that I would be dead or locked up before 18 given those circumstances," he said.
He was at a crossroads in his life when he met a mentor who provided him with support and guidance. Singleton went on to become the first person in his family to graduate from college.
"I called that mentor up and asked him a question," he said. "It was 'what do I need to do to pay you back for what you done for me sir,' and he said 'the same thing I did for you, do for someone else.'"
Singleton said the mission of the mentoring program is to educate, empower, and expose Black and Latinx teens to a world full of opportunities. Singleton and his team serve hundreds of teens every week by conducting virtual sessions because of the pandemic.
"We're all about increasing our capacity to support more young men," said
Singleton said it's disheartening to see some teens caught up in the recent surge of carjackings in the city. He knows more resources and manpower are needed to reach more teens.
"There's a not a whole lot of resources to offer our students on the South and West Sides," he said. "This pandemic has exacerbated what we're seeing at higher levels than normal."
For those seeking more information on the program, CHAMPS is hosting a virtual event with the crew of the documentary "A Most Beautiful Thing" on Feb. 13.