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CHICAGO — For nearly a decade, a local non-profit organization has set their sights on keeping high-risk youth out of the judicial system and away from gangs. But like so many other organizations, COVID-19 forced them to re-think their approach as they worked to keep kids off the streets. The Crushers Club is one of Chicago’s Very Own. 

Chicago business owner Vanessa Frazier has no problem finding good help these days. Frazier is the owner of Fresh and Clean Hand Car Wash in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. The business is just one of several putting teens to work in a new partnership with the Crushers Club.  

“I placed each one of them with one of the guys that worked here previously, just so they could get the experience from somebody who knows what they are doing,” Frazier said.

For nearly a decade, the Crushers Club has been serving hundreds of at-risk youth, many vulnerable to gangs or have previously had a brush with the law. Offering alternative programs like boxing and music. However, the main focus is to steer kids away from gangs. 

They also offer an on-site job program. Roneal Hall is the director of programming for Crushers Club. He said the pandemic was a huge blow to the organization which has served more than 500 children since 2012. 

Serving more than 100 kids pre-pandemic, Hall said the immediate goal is to prioritize the needs of the teens deemed high risk, but also excelled in the work program. Last spring, with a renewed sense of urgency, the Crushers Club turned to the community for help.

“We pretty much went out ourselves to each company asking if they needed assistance from our boys,” Hall said.

And just like that, the Crushers Club workforce initiative was born the idea of the offsite work program is to keep teens working during the pandemic, while remaining on the Crushers Club payroll.  

“We relied on our neighborhood.  As you see our neighborhood businesses.  And they’ve been definitely teaching our boys how to have real life job skills,” Hall said.

“They put us in different spaces like the car wash and I’m in the hardware right now,” club member Amari Smith said.

To date, five local businesses have participated, including this neighborhood cafe and local hardware store. Frazier said she opted to pay the teens at her business as an incentive and the results have been positive.     

“It’s a win-win for everybody, because they’re getting double pay for doing what they like to do,” Hall said.

Hall said teens take pride in making their own money. It teaches them responsibility.

There are 24 Crushers Club members participating in the new program, and although it is still in it’s infancy, it appears to be a success.    

“I think this will open up another opportunity because before this I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Tarver said. 

Hall said he is happy these kids have stayed on course through the shutdown.

“I’m happy to see them doing something positive, my main goal is to stay focused,” Hall said.

For more information on Crushers Club programs you can visit the website.