ABC7's Evelyn Holmes visited one 'safe haven' site Monday where children participated in a simple sack race that served as a lesson in teamwork. It's one of the positive activities offered to Chicago Public School students during this holiday break by dozens of faith-based organizations and churches in the area through the Safe Haven-Safe Holiday Program.
"I like Safe Haven because it's so much fun and we do a lot of stuff," said Darnesha Marion, program participant.
That 'stuff' included a hula-hoop contest 9-year-old Darnesha easily won. The eight-day program for first through 12th grade students is free. It's an extension of the Safe Haven initiative launched last year and is designed for parents looking for a safe place for their children to be while school is out for winter break. It began December 17 for most students and the previous Friday for those attending year-round schools.
"I don't like being at home, being bored and watching TV. I like to play and do stuff," said Michael Longino, program participant.
The program also offers workshops lead by volunteers talking about conflict resolution and anger management. It's all in keeping with the program's theme of 'Stop the Violence, Stop the Silence.'
"I have three younger siblings and I don't want them to end up on the streets," said Deante Davis, program volunteer.
Pastor Roosevelt Watkins of Bethlehem Star Mission Bible Church is one of the architects of the plan to provide a place where children can feel safe.
"We know that children are seven times more likely to become the perpatrator of a crime or a victim of crime when they're out of school or after school. So we knew that it was imperative that something take place," said Rev. Watkins.
Over 80 churches and organizations around Chicagoland are participating. Armitage Baptist Church is one of those places, where they're hoping to eventually have a big impact.
"We have opened our doors. This is our second year doing it. And if we get two more students this year, the next year we build on that," said Pastor Bob Burns, Armitage Baptist Church.
Organizers had hoped that about 2,500 students would participate and they still may.
The Safe Haven-Safe Holiday Program operates the rest of this week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as well as the week leading up to New Year's Day but not Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve. Each child is provided breakfast and lunch for free.