Vets help kids from violent neighborhoods deal with stress, anxiety

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the country honors the men and women who served the nation, a group of veterans are sharing their war experiences with some children whose neighborhoods in Chicago can sometimes feel like war zones.

The idea is to help them get past the stress and anxiety associated with their experiences.

Kids feel free to just be kids at this safe-haven known as the "Off The Street Club" in West Garfield Park. But even at this happy place, violent images are never far away.

"My dad was at a store and he was sitting somewhere and he got shot," A'Yonna Pitchford, a 10-year-old, said. "It made me sad and I was crying."

Experiences often compared to living in a war zone. But there's the question, "Are these young minds feeling the same long-term effects as people who've faced life-altering military combat situations?"

"That's such an interesting and great question," Ralph Campagna said. "Our kids, studies have shown that kids growing up in a violent neighborhood have post-traumatic stress the same as veterans."

That's why the Off The Street Club began bringing in veterans to talk directly to the young people. Vets who themselves have been affected by unbelievable violence share their stories and their harrowing experiences with these inner city youngsters.

"We ran the hospital so I saw individuals who were wounded come in, then I'm a mortuary affairs certified officer as well, so I handle the remains of individuals who have not come out alive," Charles Gatling, a combat veteran, said. "Life is precious. You have to be careful but you have to enjoy your moments. You have to live. You can't let what's going on around you stop your growth."

"The veterans want to share and really embrace them and say it's going to be alright. We can get through this together. And what better day to celebrate all that love than on Veterans Day," Campagna said.

A message that's making a real difference.

"You kind of feel like you're losing someone every year and every month and it's very hard because you love that person and you really care for them," Davion Morgan, a 14-year-old said.

The Off The Street Club, which is the city's oldest boys and girls club, hopes to expand this program to reach even more youngsters. That's part of the reason for a big fundraising holiday luncheon they are having on Dec. 1 at the Swissotel.

Off The Street Club Holiday Luncheon
Swissotel Chicago
323 E Upper Wacker Drive
For ticket information, call 312-595-2608
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