ROSELAND — Simeon Career Academy senior Hakeem Day would rather be working with his hands than in the streets.
“I’ve been interested in construction since I was a little kid and this gives me the opportunity to practice for the future because I plan on doing this in the future,” said the 18-year-old Roseland resident.
He is getting that opportunity through a new youth and trades After School Matters program.
Aaron Mallory, 28, of Roseland started the program through his nonprofit God Restoring Order, or G.R.O. He’s working with a group of high school teens from schools including Simeon, Morgan Park and the Noble charter schools
The goal is to improve the community one block at a time by rehabbing the abandoned homes, and Mallory is doing just that with the help of local teens. They’re finishing up work on their first home near 109th Street and Wentworth Avenue.
Simeon instructor Isaiah Rowsey said the participants did the demolition, put up insulation and drywall, painted and put in tile.
“They’re learning the fundamentals, the basics of how to remodel a house or rehab a house,” he said.
In neighborhoods of color, the workers typically don’t reflect the residents, so this program is helping to change that norm, he said. This learning opportunity is also teaching the young workers how to take ownership of their community, he said.
“We can complain about the condition of our neighborhoods, but no one else is going to solve the problem unless we solve it,” Rowsey said. “The children need to see this at an early age because if they don’t have pride in their neighborhood who else will?”
Day said it feels good to help make his community look more aesthetically pleasing. He wants others to join the program.
“Hopefully other people become interested in this and want to learn how to do this stuff so instead of being on the streets, maybe they can help better their community,” he said.
Rha’me Woods, 17, takes carpentry classes at Simeon, but said this program is giving him more real work experience. He said it’s great to gain more skills, but he’s really excited about making a difference in his community. The homes they finish will be rented out to families.
“I never [thought much] about helping someone or rehabbing [homes] and turning something that’s crappy into like a masterpiece, so I’m thinking as I’m doing this, I have to make sure this is right,” he said. “It feels like I did something for the community instead of just being a part of that group that disrupts the community. Being able to help our community and not being a part of the other group destroying it, it’s a perfect feeling.”
Morgan Park sophomore Dylan Shadlow said he is enjoying the work because it’s teaching him how to take care of his future home. The 16-year-old said he appreciates the program.
“I like that it gives me another outlet to learn more things, to get involved in different things other than just working at stores,” he said. “It allows me to get into a more lucrative business.”
Like his fellow co-workers, he also likes the bigger impact they are having on the community.
“It feels good to know I am a part of" an effort to improve the community, Dylan said, and he hopes to expand it "to have different homes and build our community back up to where it should be,” Dylan said.
Mallory said his organization has a dual purpose. One is to beautify the community by rehabbing the abandoned homes and renting them out. The other is to pass down lifelong skills to the teens.
“Our goal is to equip the youth with skills so they understand what it takes to restore property, but when they see an abandoned building, they have a different perspective, they see the potential that is has,” he said. “They see them all over, so hopefully as they get older they can say this is something I can buy, I can invest in, I can fix up my community.”
Mallory said he’s still accepting teens into the program and experience isn’t required.
They’re just looking for those who are “committed, who have a passion, and are willing to work and have an open mind,” he said.
To register, students can visit After School Matters online or call 312-742-4182.
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