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Englewood teen finds missing father figure in his mentors

We recently visited the Salvation Army Red Shield Center in Englewood, to hang out with Corps Ministries Director Theo Coleman, a former crack addict whose story of redemption has impacted youths he’s worked with over the past five years.

Some of the youths’ stories were quite moving, offering clear lenses into larger issues we confront in the inner city — and just as clear evidence of how mentoring can change lives. So we are sharing the stories of three young men.

The second, Isaac House, 18, was born to a drug-addicted mother who lost six of her children to the child welfare system — four older sons, then House and his twin brother.

Maudlyne Ihejirika

House and his brother wound their way through the system, through abusive foster homes, engulfed in hopelessness, until around the age of 5, when their mother got clean.

Raised by that single mother, House finds father figures in mentors at this community center at 945 W. 69th St. — an oasis in a city neighborhood beleaguered by gang and drug crime.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a baby really, because my older brothers, they like introduced us to the program. Then that’s when we met Theo and Carl and Jaridian, and we just felt like a brotherhood,” says the do-ragged teen, just coming off the basketball court.

“Which got our interest in the mentoring group. Me and my brother, we grew up without a father,” he says. “And it’s really a lot of father figures here, which brings us back all the time. Can’t never stay away.”

He and his brother have become close with their mentor in the Celebrate Launch and Landing program, which meets Wednesday nights. A boy has to be taught what it is to be a man.

“Me and my brother, we look up to [our mentor] a lot,” says the slender teen.

“We see how he’s taking care of his own kids, his family, plus he always comes up here and looks out for other kids, especially for me and my brother.

“He taught us like how to be able to control ourselves — discipline — and life lessons. Not only that, but like, how to do the things a father should do, that we haven’t experienced. And he shows like a lot of love for me and my brother. Like I said, a father figure.”

The program, 3 years old, draws some 100 youths ages 10 to 19 weekly, seeking to steer them from gangs and drugs. House says those aren’t options. He and his twin excel in school. They’re determined to break the cycle.

“Me and my brother been through the system already. My Mama, she was on drugs, so they took us away from our mother at birth,” says the serious teen with earnest gaze.

(From left to right) At the Salvation Army Red Shield Center in Englewood, mentee Carl Velez, 21, Corps Ministries Director Theo Coleman, and mentees Isaac House, 18, and Jaridian Lee, 19, gather for the Celebrate Launch and Landing mentoring program held every Wednesday at the South Side center. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

“Growing up, it was hard for us — going in and out of foster homes, with abusive foster parents and stuff like that.

“When she got us back, it was kind of confusing to us, because first it was this, now that. And now it’s coming to say, ‘Aw, we got a Mom!’ And that’s where that heat came in, in our heart: ‘We actually got somebody that care about us!'”

Clean and sober since, his mother is his hero.

“If you see my Mama now, she’s so strong,” House says.

“My older brothers, they been through what we’ve been through, but she ended up not getting them back. She said she wasn’t going to go through it a second time.

“And that’s what motivates me and my brother to keep going. Because if my Mama can go through one of the most hardest things — her kids being taken from her and then be able to flip the system, getting us back — nothing can top that in my eyes. So there’s nothing that can stop me from doing what I want to do. Or there’s nothing that can stop me or my brother from achieving something that we want so badly.

“That’s why me and my brother, we’re ‘A’ and ‘B’ students. We been ‘A’ and ‘B’ students for all our life.”

READ MORE

Carl Velez: A mentor breaks through to Englewood teen who lost both parents
Jaridian Lee: Mentors help Englewood teen avert path leading to jail, death
At Salvation Army oasis in Englewood, former addict helps teens find their way