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Safe Spaces Create Hope and Opportunities for Chicago Youth

New Life

Valerie Jarrett visits New Life Centers Pan De Vida in Chicago, IL, on June 8, 2022. Please credit “The Obama Foundation.” The photographs may not be manipulated in any way, and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement by the Foundation, President Obama, or Mrs. Obama without the Foundation’s prior written consent.

Since 2005, New Life Centers of Chicagoland has addressed the needs of the neighbors surrounding New Life Community Church locations and beyond. As community members approached the church with pressing issues, such as youth violence, gang violence, teen pregnancy, justice system involvement, and unemployment, New Life responded with tailored programming. New Life Centers’ mission is to provide mentoring and advocacy services for youth, purposed to steer them toward a new life–out of the school-to-prison pipeline.. Today, the organization’s after school, summer activity, and violence prevention programs reach thousands of youth from first grade through high school.

In 2018, New Life Centers received an MBK Alliance Chicago Seed grant to support and expand their violence prevention initiatives. The organization received additional funding in 2020 to support its key initiatives, such as its Pan De Vida food pantry, during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, New Life’s food pantry served 100 families per week.  By June 2021, that number swelled, with nearly 6,000 families being served on a weekly basis.. This week, Pan De Vida will open its first permanent facility where it will feed local families five days a week. Pan De Vida employs sixteen youth, who manage its food distribution, two of whom, Alex Ramon and Anthony Montoya are part of the MBK community.

Alex Ramon is a 20-year-old native of the Little Village community on Chicago’s West Side. Alex grew up around gangs and decided he needed something different in his life; the programs at the New Life Centers provided him with that opportunity. Alex is a My Brother’s Keeper New Life Centers participant. In 2019, Alex had the opportunity to represent New Life at MBK Rising where he joined President Obama and Steph Curry for a notable on-stage moment. Alex has been inspired to volunteer and organize around social justice issues through the programs at New Life Centers. Due to the pandemic, he postponed college attendance and, instead, stayed home to help serve in his community. Alex is now employed by New Life and will oversee its new Pan de Vida Fresh Market. 

Anthony Montoya is a 22-year-old Little Village native, former gang member, and community influencer who has also benefited from the safe spaces provided by the New Life Centers. At the age of 14, Anthony joined a gang, seeking a support network and safety.  A judge’s intervention, mandating his participation in Urban Life Skills at New Life Centers, altered his life’s course.

With the help of New Life mentors, activities, and opportunities Anthony became a community leader and has made steps to broaden his impact. Anthony now leads programming for 7th and 8th graders at New Life and works with the food distribution center. He was recently accepted into a thirty-student cohort at the University of Chicago with the Future Leaders of Chicago, received the Project Lifeline scholarship and enrolled in college. He is currently entering his third year at University of Illinois at Chicago majoring in political science and minoring in Public Policy with dreams of becoming a lawyer to defend young people in the juvenile justice system. 

Alex and Anthony are just two examples of youth who have benefited from safe spaces provided by MBK communities. As we enter the summer months, when youth violence historically surges, it is essential we all take an active interest in the safety, engagement and protection of our boys.  That’s why the MBK Alliance has created Freedom Summer 2022, a national call to action for communities to create safe spaces for boys and young men of color during the summer months. Freedom Summer 2022 is an opportunity for individuals, community organizers and organizations to develop creative ways to keep our children engaged and off of the streets this summer. No endeavor is too small! We’re calling for all hands on deck in turning the tide on youth violence. Join us on June 23rd for our virtual Town Hall to learn more about the impetus, importance and purpose of Freedom Summer 2022.