Chicago community workers in violent neighborhoods get mental health training

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago health leaders trained community workers to help those struggling with mental health.

They're Building a Better Chicago by taking a page from the pandemic playbook to help potential future situations.

Tossing around a squishy ball is part of the warm-up exercise for this Chicago Department of Public Health mental health skill-building training class. Participants learned how physical activity can heal trauma and stress

"These folks are in the trenches, they are in the front lines working hard every day responding to some of the most traumatic experiences in the city," Pharlone Toussaint with the Center for Healing & Justice Through Sport said.

Partnering with other organizations, CDPH is providing four-week mental health training classes for people working in 15 of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods.

"We are taking the approach to COVID and utilizing that in lessons learned in order to address violence as a public health crisis," CDPH Director of Mental Health Operations Kathy Calderon said.

Tuesday's training was in the South Lawndale/Little Village Neighborhood. Several of the participants grew up in the area and now work as youth mentors in schools or community organizations.

"I work with kids that have a lot of trauma, whether it be gang violence, family trauma or abuse," training participant Caroline Linares.

Participants said the training has taught them how trauma affects the brain. They said skills learned in the class will change the way they communicate with the kids they mentor.

"I feel when you first go to schools you think there is a problem with them, they are just figuring out life," training participant Marcus Cavazos said. "I feel like if you take that approach instead of going to fix their problems immediately like just learning who they are how they live."

The city hopes the training gives different community stakeholders a baseline tool kit to utilize during what could be a violent summer.

"There are some people we have never met now we have that connection and maybe we can collaborate in the future," training participant Esteban Caldero.

While the training wrapped up in South Lawndale Tuesday, it will continue in the 14 other target neighborhoods throughout the summer, it will wrap up in middle of August just in time for school to begin.
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