For some kids in Chicago, life is a war zone. But these military vets offer safe routes to school.
Danger and uncertainty were the norm. Now there's a better way.
Chicago is a world-renowned city. But for too many kids, it's downright dangerous.
Despite the fact that Chicago is home to several museums, a giant lake, and a free zoo, between 2010 and 2014, 114 Chicago schoolchildren were murdered.
Some were just walking home from school.
All GIFs via NationSwell.
But as you'll see in this video from NationSwell, hundreds of people are doing their part to create safer neighborhoods.
Hakki Gurkan, military veteran and former Chicago police officer, stepped up with a program called Safe Passage.
After serving in Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Hakki returned home to a mountain of family medical bills and student debt. He joined Chicago-based Leave No Veteran Behind, a nonprofit that provides retroactive scholarships to veterans in exchange for service to the community.
The goal of Safe Passage, Hakki's service project, is two-fold: protect children and teens from violence and gang activity while also providing transitional jobs for vets re-entering civilian life.
He launched Safe Passage in 2011. The program put military veterans on patrol to help students get to and from school safely.
Unarmed veteran employees and community members stand at key points along the "high risk" routes to over 100 schools in some of Chicago's toughest areas.
Safe Passage does not provide security and instead offers a positive adult presence, employing community engagement strategies to build trust and engage with the students they serve.
Safe Passage schools saw a 20% decline in criminal incidents and a 51% decline in student disciplinary reports.
The schools also improved attendance by 7%. And the program a huge win for returning veterans.
Since launch, over 400 vets have participated in Safe Passage. It allows them to earn a steady income while seeking long-term employment while giving back to their community using skills they honed in the service.
In fall 2014, Illinois announced a $10 million investment in Safe Passage.
That's on top of the $1 million Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged just months prior.
Together, the funds will expand the program to 133 schools, serving 16% of Chicago Public School students daily.
Now, 69,000 children can focus on their schoolwork instead of their safety.
Veterans, community members, and elected officials coming together to build safer, healthier neighborhoods — that's something we can all salute.
To see Safe Passage in action, check out this mini-documentary from NationSwell: