After learning about the numerous untimely tragedies involving young people throughout the Chicago area and even nationally in recent months, Cass Miller had enough.

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After learning about the numerous untimely tragedies involving young people throughout the Chicago area and even nationally in recent months, Cass Miller had enough.

The Chicago Housing Authority Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center director grew weary of seeing young people go unprotected and unaccounted for by adults within their own communities and neighborhoods.

"All of in this building can do something for kids." Miller said. "We want to make sure people know that we are here. "And through social services we can make things happen for kids."

That’s why there has been an emphasis on programs such as After School Matters, the Summer Food Program and other efforts through the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.

These initiatives, many officials say, are key in the protecting kids through social services model the CHA wants to enforce to keep youngsters off the street, safe and involved in productive activities.

Programs like those found at Ada S. McKinley-Highland School, 2647 E. 88th St., where elementary and high school students can get homework assistance, play basketball and hang with their friends until as late as 7 p.m.

"We need more programs," said McKinley Intervention Services Division office manager Marilyn Carter, a program that specializes in treating children and young adults with mental health issues. "We need more funding.

Otherwise these kids would be lost."

Lakeside Academy, 2929 S. Wabash Ave., also gives kids a second chance to make good.

The alternative school takes troubled students from Chicago Public Schools and attempts to mold them into efficient, college ready learners through one-on-one tutoring and counseling.

"Every child has the ability to learn," said community affairs director Brenda Fashola. "It is exceedingly rewarding to see young people progress."

In light of that, television Judge Glenda Hatchett made a recent appearance at the Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center to make an impassioned plea to those attending its annual Occupants Meeting about the importance of developing the young.

"Our kids should come first," a riled up Hatchett said while fashioning a walking boot as a result of a broken foot. "We (adults) have to get to them before they get to us (judges). All children need encouragement."

The judge, who is described as having a passion for kids, is also a national spokesperson for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a network of 955 programs that specializes in recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to represent abused and neglected children.

The hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., when most kids are away from school and in many cases away from adult supervision, is a vitally important time when they need structure.

"We have to make sure children are involved in positive things," said Hatchett, who wants to see more after school programs made available that involve entire neighborhoods pitching in to help. "That’s my dream."

At the Austin neighborhood YMCA, 501 N Central Ave., kids and teens have the opportunity to not only participate in games and other activities, but get a hot meal as well at the Kids’ Cafe after school,  meals many of the children desperately need in some cases.

"These programs keep kids off the street," said program director Colethia Smith about the organization which also provides homework help and tutoring during the school year. "We help feed them when their parents always can’t."

The local YMCA will be adding additional programs starting next year, Smith said.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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