Digital programs aim to keep kids engaged and safe from threats of coronavirus, gun violence

Chicago News

CHICAGO — This summer has been dangerous for many children in Chicago, as a child younger than 10 years old has been shot and killed in the city over each of the last three weekends.

Sadly, another child was shot Wednesday night when 7-month-old Rhylee Finley was shot in the foot, grazed by a stray bullet when his family was caught in the middle of a drive-by shooting.

“All I heard was gunshots uintil I heard my baby crying,” mother Shauntaevia Osbey said.

Community leaders in some neighborhoods have been wrestling with a problem as kids face both the pandemic and gun violence: how can you protect kids who just want to play outside?

One solution: give them the tools to stay engaged and stay indoors.

Englewood resident Victoria Richardson said this summer is especially difficult because simply playing outside seems dangerous, and kids don’t want to be cooped up inside. 

Her son Christian just wants to go to the pool or the beach as temperatures stay in the 90s, but they remain closed during the pandemic.

“I’m petrified of him playing outside – it’s a different stress level that some people don’t understand,” Richardson said.

Englewood has a reputation as one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods, but a group of church leaders, corporate donors, politicians, and police have come together to give kids their own computers.

“There is a need for our children to have a safe place to go every summer. There is a need for parents to know that their children are safe. This year, with the pandemic, we still have a need,” said Hope Tec Executive Director Julie Collier. 

Hope United Presbyterian Church is re-making it’s usual summer program for kids so they can stay connected, even as the pandemic keeps them inside.

“We know that it takes a village to raise a child. We are concerned about this Englewood community; we are trying to make it better for the people who live here,”  Reverend Leslie Sanders said.

Faith and nonprofit leaders handed out free laptop computers to kids along with bags filled with arts and crafts projects Thursday so kids can play safely indoors away from violence, while  staying engaged during the doldrums of the pandemic.

“This occasion is keeping our young people motivated, constructive, and off the streets,” CPD Officer Joshua Shelton said.

In addition to coding and creativity, teachers will be providing Zoom lessons on conflict resolution and anger management,and the church will teach the values of  love and respect.

“We can still be proud of where we live, and still have ways to engage that are trying to be positive,” Richardson said.

It may not be the perfect summer of going to the  pool on a hot day, but for 5-year-old Christian Jones, having a computer is still pretty cool.

The four-week program starts July 20 and will be held over Zoom to teach kids computer skills, arts and crafts,while also providing lessons in conflict resolution, all aimed at violence prevention.

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