As a scientist, I like facts and information. So let’s start with some statistics. As I sit down to write this, on August 22, 2015, there have been 293 homicides in Chicago this year. There are roughly 22,000 homeless students in Chicago Public Schools. 51% of all children in Chicago live in single-parent households. These are all facts, easily found via a few quick keystrokes and your favorite search engine. They are also facts that took on a new perspective for me during my time as a high school science teacher on the south side. 20% of my students were, or were about to be, parents. Roughly 30% of my students were homeless. I lost two students to gun violence.
Often when I talk about this experience, or the issues around Chicago, I get fairly standard responses. People shake their heads, say how terrible it is, and maybe put a scapegoat into their crosshairs while writing off a generation of youth. Solutions or ideas of ways to help are few and far between, and there is no magic bullet. That being said, I truly believe that relationships are one of the only ways to break the cycles of violence and poverty in our city.
When I was in the classroom, I had the privilege of running Science Club. We would take any crazy project that we could find; a recycling competition, raising super-worms, planting plants for teacher appreciation day, building robot cars. It was often a chaotic mess in my room, but I loved to watch as the students experienced something new, and, for a couple hours a week, looked at something with a new perspective. I saw the value of pushing students out of their comfort zone and I also saw the value of strong relationships with adults.
For me, joining the board of Carpe Ventus was a fairly easy decision. Carpe Ventus is an organization that has the ability to push students out of their daily routines and support existing relationships between young people and adults. I see this organization as one that is dedicated to partnering with the young people of this city, and their mentors, to open the door to experience a new perspective. Carpe Ventus is not trying to simply take mentees/mentors out for a sail to see how cool it is. Instead, the organization is committed to creating the space and place for mentees, mentors, and instructors to build and deepen relationships that can challenge preconceptions and empower participants. Carpe Ventus is purposefully organized so that a new perspective on the water can lead to discussions on teamwork, cultural differences, communication and risk-taking. Carpe Ventus is an organization whose goal is to strengthen these relationships, which I believe can begin to positively impact the lives and futures of Chicago’s youth.