Community organization offers opportunities to South and West Side teens to stay away from youth violence

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A community leader from the Back of the Yards neighborhood is helping guide some of Chicago's youth toward leadership and job opportunities in order to steer them away from gun and gang violence.

The organization Increase the Peace has helped many teens since it inception five years ago.

"We cannot stop the issue of youth violence without youth voice and without young people at the table," said Berto Aguayo co-founder of Increase the Peace.

Increase the Peace teach teens how to organize and get employment opportunities.

On Wednesday, Aguayo and a group of teenagers registered neighborhood residents for COVID-19 vaccines.

Volunteering is a key part of the organization's mission.

"We give programs and opportunities to young people who do the work out here in the streets, see the inequities and the lack of resources. When you give a young person an opportunity, it gives them a gateway to prosper and succeed," said Mayra Martinez, an ambassador for Increase the Peace.

Aguayo said unemployment fuels gun and gang violence, something he said he's seen firsthand.

"When I was 13 years old, because I ran out of things to do at home and the lack of supervision because my mom was working so hard, I joined a gang. But I was able to transform my life and go to college because I got a job at this grocery store right behind us," said Aguayo.

Aguayo said his job at the grocery store along with internships and educational opportunities saved him from a life of crime. He said he wants to provide the same opportunities for others.

"This massive crisis requires a massive investment. We need to be able to invest in not only in insuring that every single young person in the city of Chicago has a job but that they have an after school program, that they have counselors at schools. That they have art classes," said Aguayo.
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