YWCA helps young men avoid violence

Antonio Rice and Brian McHugh.

This summer groups of teen boys from Evanston and Skokie are spending time in classes designed to help adolescent males take an in-depth look at themselves and grow into the non-violent adults they want to be.

It’s all part of YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s violence prevention effort, which aims to reach males at an early age and teach them about conflict resolution, empathy, and healthy relationships.

YWCA leading two groups this summer

Antonio Rice, who along with Brian McHugh leads this effort for the YWCA, says the organization is conducting two groups for young men this summer.

One is a joint program with Youth Outreach Services of the Village of Skokie and the Skokie Police Department to offer court-ordered youth the chance to be part of YWCA’s class instead of paying a fine or receiving another type of punishment.

The second is a group of self-selecting young men who get together weekly to learn how to be role models for violence prevention among their peers.

The Skokie court-ordered program, which began in January, is called “Men in the Making.” It includes six mandatory two-hour sessions.

“The ‘Men in the Making’ group includes boys, middle school through high school, who have a citation for things like truancy, vaping, or weapons possession,” said Rice. “The program came about because we worked closely with the Skokie Police Department and said, ‘why don’t we have them come to us and give them a safe space to dig deeper into why they’re doing what they’re doing?’”

Rice said the partnership with the Village of Skokie has been positive, helping not only the teens in the program but also bridging the relationship between the Skokie Police Department and the young men.

Since “Men in the Making” started, it has reached approximately 25 youth in the area.

“The guys really respond to Brian and me,” said Rice. “A lot of young men want to talk. We give them a place to open up about themselves and their families and why they act the way they do. A lot of them have been through trauma, like divorce or death.”

Rice and McHugh follow up the weekly sessions with check-in phone calls to the participants and their parents.

“They don’t want to put on a façade of masculinity”

In addition to Rice and McHugh, 19-year-old Jean Dorelus assists with both groups.  A 2018 graduate of Evanston Township High School, Dorelus was part of YWCA’s anti-violence programs when he was in high school.

“Back in high school, I was originally interested in the YWCA’s program because of the things they discussed: the concept of masculinity, domestic violence, and the male role in ending violence against all persecuted people. Me and my friends talked about all of this on a daily basis. It was part of our lives,” said Dorelus, who just completed his freshman year at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“In both ‘Men in the Making’ and the other young men’s group, we talk about the communities they come from and the problems they see,” said Dorelus. “Many say they don’t like the violence in their communities. And they don’t want to put on a façade of masculinity – they just want to be normal people.”

Mask exercise unearths real feelings and emotions

Rice and Dorelus described an exercise they led with both groups to talk about the pressures of being male and toxic masculinity. They distributed paper masks and on the outside of the masks, they asked the young men to write the traits they think society wants them to have as men. They wrote things like “aggressiveness,” “money,” and “a lot of women.”

“Some even put gang signs on the outside of their masks,” said Dorelus. “We gave them complete freedom to express themselves.”

On the inside of the masks, they were asked to write about the things they feel they have to hide. They wrote things like, “I like to cook,” “gardening,” “I like poetry,” “I’m afraid of the future,” and “my parents are divorced.”

“The mask exercise was emotional,” said Dorelus. “And it had a domino effect. The more we all showed our vulnerability, the more vulnerable everyone else became.”

Dorelus said he relates to the young men in both of these groups.

“I come from a similar background as these guys,” he said. “People who come from the neighborhoods they come from, who look like them, often don’t get to where I am. So part of my role is showing them that it’s possible to achieve things. I’m from the same side of the tracks as they are.”

Said Rice, “These guys all really respond to Jean. They say they want to be like him and go to college and become leaders.”

More information about YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s violence prevention efforts for young people is available online or by calling 847-864-8445.

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