A special Chicago after school program is giving students the opportunity to explore animal welfare issues and the link between animal cruelty and violence toward people. The Anti-Cruelty Society developed the “Exploring the Link” after school program three years ago as a means to educate and empower teenagers that frequently see violence in their communities.
“There is a lot of youth violence in Chicago and so far the way to combat that has been through metal detectors and increased security,” says Tatiana Garrett director of community outreach for the organization. “This does nothing to empower them to stop the violence amongst themselves. Our goal in this program is to get them to connect with the animals and empathize with them so they learn that violence against animals is not right. We want them to come full circle to realize that they deserve the same respect – to not be bullied.”
The popular program meets two days a week after school and gives the students a chance to interact with dogs and cats. For many students, this is the first time they’ve been able to learn compassion for animals by learning a safe and proper way to approach domestic animals. Along with seeing violence in their community, many of the participants have been to dogfights and seen other violence against animals.
“As the students begin to recognize the link between animal cruelty and violence towards humans, we work on role playing to help them change the way they handle those situations,” says Garrett. “The program also has a career focus to help keep the participants more engaged in school. We have leaders from their community come and talk to the group about how to become more involved in a positive way in their own neighborhood to make a difference.”
The goal of the program is for each participant to become an anti-violence ambassador in his or her own community. At the end of the semester, each teen must create a presentation to champion their own subject and many use their own unique talents in art or technology to develop these special projects.
“I’ve been impressed with the way the students have progressed and to see the transformation that has occurred during this program,” says Garrett. “The final results have been captivating and this gives them a chance to make a difference in their own neighborhood. They each must give the presentation in their community. We encourage them to show their presentation in their school and some have also brought their message to their younger sibling’s classes. They have the power to mentor younger kids in their community.”
Each semester 25 to 30 high school students participate in the program and can receive service hours for their participation. Some students choose to receive a small stipend instead that pays for their transportation to the Anti-Cruelty Society to participate twice a week. Garrett adds that a lot of the students not only focus on animal welfare when they finish but many of them later participate in the Veterinary Mentoring Program also offered by the organization.
The Anti-Cruelty Society offers a variety of Humane Education Programs ranging from programs for pre-school students to adults. Programs may be booked in house at the organization or someone from the Anti-Cruelty Society may come to you school or other site. The Anti-Cruelty Society is Chicago’s oldest and largest, private, open-admission, unlimited stay humane society. Learn more about the after school program and other programs offered by the organization online or by calling Tammie Bouschor at (312) 644-8338 ext. 344 or e-mail [email protected]