U.S. military veterans of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are protecting school kids as they make their way to and from school each day. Chicago, one of the most deadly cities in America, has paved the way by instituting the “Safe Passage” program to ensure children can get the education they are entitled to.
According to CBS News, 114 school-age children have been murdered in Chicago over the past four years. In 2014, 200 were wounded in gang-related incidents. The program is designed to deter these types of crimes.
Safe Passage workers and volunteers are strategically placed along designated high-risk routes, usually no more than two blocks from each other. They are armed with two-way radios and mobile phones, so that if anything suspicious occurs they can immediately call the police.
Since its launch in 2011, over 400 veterans have taken part in the program. On any given day, approximately 150 community members and former Armed Forces members take their posts along the routes. It has been calculated that the program has cut violence along the passages by 20%.
Because of the success of the initiative, the Chicago Public Schools expanded the program in the fall of 2013. In addition to the decline in criminal incidents, there was also a 7 percent increase in high school student attendance and a 27 percent drop in incidents among students.
The “Leave No Veteran Behind” organization has been an integrate part of the program. For many veterans, working as a Safe Passage worker gives them a new sense of purpose after leaving the military.
“Somebody’s going to think twice because we’re there,” Cedrik Whittaker, Former Leave No Veteran Behind Program Manager, said. “And because of that, there’s going to be a child that gets home safe that day.”
Eli Williamson, co-founder of the group, said the concept of Leave No Veteran Behind was derived by veteran student loan debt. He and his partner came up with an idea that would raise money to pay off the higher education debt for the veterans. In return, they would have to give back through 100 – 400 hours in community service.
Chicago Police Officer Hakka Gurkan came up with the Safe Passage program as his community service project. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, he wanted vets to both watch over the children and positively interact with them. Gurkan’s vision has become a great success for the youth of Chicago and the Leave No Veteran Behind organization.