By Jeff Schneiders
Silvi Pirn and I are co-liaisons for the Outreach Committee to Crushers Club, a not-for-profit that provides after school programing for “at risk” youth in Englewood. I also serve on the board.
Many of us read daily the disturbing news of gang violence on Chicago’s south side. Englewood is one of the poorest areas of our city and until recently was ranked #1 in Chicago for shootings. Teenage pregnancies, single parent households, and alcohol and drug abuse are common. So are frequent parent absences due to incarceration. While all of these issues relating to poverty in a material sense are horrific, perhaps the most damaging outcome of these circumstances is the impact on kids that grow up in this environment who feel unwanted, unworthy, and unloved… what I’ll call a poverty of the soul. Kids raised in these conditions are vulnerable to street gangs which provide a false sense of belonging, respect, and love sorely lacking at home.
Sally Hazelgrove, known as the Mother Theresa of Englewood, felt deeply for, as one local pastor referred to them, the “throwaway” kids and was driven to act. This white, divorced mother of four moved to the neighborhood in 2011 with her young family raising a few eye brows in the process. She founded Crusher’s Club to provide a safe haven for these kids and a solution countering gang violence. Sally canvased the locals to see what activities might keep them off of the street. The response was overwhelmingly for boxing and music. Crusher’s has served over 250 youth since its inception and approximately 40 attend each weekday after school. Programming is youth run, with adult supervision supporting four Ideals: personal responsibility; discipline; respect; and most importantly, love. Crushers employs about 20 youth and for most, it’s their first job.
Crushers has many personal successes but none more notable than Ivry. He joined Crushers at age 15 with a multitude of behavioral problems. Today Ivry is a polite young man, a regional golden gloves boxing champion and 4.0 student at Tilden High School. He is currently applying to college and would like to become a doctor—a career unimaginable when he first came to Crushers. Englewood needs a lot more Ivrys!
So what do I ask of you. First, please join us at the Annual Outreach Benefit on April 27 or if you can’t attend, please consider donating to the benefit. Our church supports over 40 worthy causes such as Crushers. And if you have an interest in learning more about Crushers in particular, please contact me. We have ambitions of opening additional sites in the next two years and need help at the board level as well as a variety of volunteering roles.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this wonderful cause.