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City Expands Investment In 'Choose To Change' Youth Violence Prevention Program

CHICAGO (CBS) -- City officials are increasing their commitment to a program to reduce gun violence by offering mentoring, therapy, and recreational activities to at-risk youth.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday announced plans to expand the city's investment in the "Choose to Change" program, which will be able to provide year-round services to more than 2,000 students.

The private youth violence prevention program offered by Children's Home & Aid and Youth Advocate Programs provides behavioral and mental health support services to students at highest risk of involvement in gun violence in 15 neighborhoods.

Choose To Change offers students weekly mentoring  and group-based trauma-enforced therapy; and recreational activities such as field trips, community service projects, sports, and more.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who chairs the City Council Public Safety Committee, said "there's nothing more stronger or more powerful than when we stand together as a community."

"Our responsibility to Chicago's school children does not end when the school bell goes off at the end of the day or at the end of the school year," he added.

Lightfoot, Taliaferro, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck, and other top city officials held a roundtable discussion Friday morning with students at Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Bronzeville.

The mayor said they wanted to hear from students about what the city needs to do better to keep them safe.

"They were very candid in sharing their experiences, for which I am grateful, and we will learn from what we heard from today, and we will make sure that we do a better job as a city – not just as a city government, but as a city – in making sure that we're doing better to support our young people," Lightfoot said. "I think we all heard and felt the passion, but also the fear of our young people in their neighborhoods, and in their daily lives; of the things that are motivating the gun violence, and what we need to do better to make sure that we're supporting them."

City officials said it's important for students across the city to have access to opportunities to relax, have fun, and enjoy their youth when they're not at school.

"It's an unfortunate fact that it is easier for them to get access to a handgun than to get a job, easier to handle things on the street than it is to get access to social or emotional support like they're going to receive through the Choose To Change program," Jackson said.

Lightfoot said Friday's announcement was prompted in part by last weekend's gun violence in Chicago, when 11 children were wounded in shootings across the city.

"The common thread running through each of these incidents: children and young people with guns they should never have possessed in the first place. Adults in their lives failed them, full stop, and what resulted was tragedy in each incident," she said.

The mayor said it's also important for the city to bolster its efforts to help police officers build personal relationships with the communities they serve, especially with Chicago youth.

"They want to feel like the police are on their side, that they're there not just when there's an emergency, but that they care about the communities day in and day out," she said.

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