This summer, Chicago headlines include record numbers of shootings and killings each weekend in mostly the south and west side neighborhoods of Chicago. With youth unemployment at almost 65 percent, the AFSC Youth Peace Building and Justice Program was offered the opportunity to participate in the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois summer jobs programs. Twenty youth ages 16-21 came to the AFSC Chicago office for July and August 2014.

The purpose was to create a meaningful first job and social justice experience. Youth began the job by learning mosaic work in order to create and install 100 mosaic stepping stones for a community garden in the Pilsen neighborhood. Mosaic instructors included AFSC college interns Raul Vasquez, Jessica Alaniz, Luis Rodriguez, Alberto Lara, and Luis Hernandez.

Supported by a grant from the City of Chicago Department of Family Services, instructors Monica Brown, an area yoga teacher, and Melvin Lyons, an Iraq War veteran, joined in offering yoga classes and Help Increase the Peace team-building activities. Community lunches were provided by Zero Percent, a community organization committed to providing healthy perishable food to low-income communities. Job readiness and financial literacy online classes were offered as part of the program.

Additional skills learned included mosaic furniture making, t-shirt printing, and art sales at the Chicago Remix Festival on August 30-31. We hope that youth will continue to be part of our artist cooperative by creating mosaic art and selling it on our SoBu Artist Project website.

Darlene Gramigna is AFSC's Chicago Youth Peace Building and Justice Program Director. You can reach her at DGramigna@afsc.org.