The at-risk young people served by the Woodlawn Restorative Justice Hub (WRJH) have had a particularly hard time adjusting to a new reality in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was very difficult for them to understand when the world just stopped in their community,” Catherine Jackson, WRJH’s executive director, said.
A recent nonprofit bridge grant from the University of Chicago, Jackson says, will help her adapt the ways she and her three part-time colleagues support the young people currently in the program — which helps at-risk and formerly incarcerated youth find work, finish school, address legal issues, and otherwise stay positively involved in their community — to better meet them where they are in this crisis.
“We had to rethink how we were providing services,” Jackson said, with some of the agencies the WRJH team would normally contact for support temporarily shut down. “Sometimes some of my staff will drive by a house, talk to the participant from the car. We make those types of social distancing communications with them just to say hey, we just want to see if you’re okay.”
Jackson says WRJH plans to use its grant to provide participants with stipends to help with rent and groceries among other needs, while also supporting staff. The nonprofit is additionally researching purchasing tablets for the group to keep the participants engaged with their work remotely. “Having the help from the university has been a priceless gift for us,” Jackson said.
The grant was one of 79 the University awarded to South Side nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic. The support was one element of the University’s South Side COVID-19 Community Support Initiative launched on March 30.
Organizations like WRJH that are based in or serve the University’s nine neighborhood focus area (Douglas, Grand Boulevard , Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park, and Woodlawn) and are affiliated with the University's Community Programs Accelerator were eligible to receive up to $7,500 in grants to cover general operating costs or expenses associated with moving programming online. Awarded funds totaled $400,000.
WRJH, which stemmed from a partnership with South Side organizations Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN) and Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), was one of three organizations the Accelerator worked with this year thanks to a Violence Prevention Grant from UChicago Medicine and its Urban Health Initiative. The investment allowed for the organization to receive a year of capacity-building support from the Accelerator.
In the weeks since the pandemic has taken hold, the WRJH team has worked to help their participants stay safe and out of trouble through providing groceries; health kits packed with hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks; and guidance on how to access testing and other resources. Conversations with participants have also pushed Jackson and her team to consider focusing more on mental health needs and education about the COVID-19 crisis that’s tailored to high-risk youth in the weeks and months ahead.
“How to do that in the midst of this challenge, right now, I’m not quite clear,” Jackson said. “But it’s those young people that say I don’t get this, I don’t believe this, my world has changed. The impact is overwhelming for them, their family, and their community. They were struggling before the pandemic, now they are faced with uncertainly about their future. It is our job at WRJHUB to let them know they are not alone and to teach them to have courage, faith, and hope. It is about togetherness and how our actions impact each other.”