Chicago Veterans Stand Guard Over Schoolkids

Safe Passage members patrol routes to and from school in dangerous neighborhoods.

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Herman Rainey, the Safe Passage coordinator for Leave No Veteran Behind (David Schaper/NPR)

NPR reports that the Chicago public school system will spend nearly $5 million this year on contracts with community groups and other nonprofits, in an innovative approach to keeping kids safe in some of Chicago's most dangerous and gang-saturated neighborhoods.  

The city's Safe Passage works with an organization called No Veteran Left Behind to arrange for retired or out-of-work military veterans -- mostly middle-aged and older --  to simply stand on corners and side streets, looking for signs of trouble, in the hours before and after school. For $10 an hour, they monitor the routes that students take.

Although they have military experience, their purpose isn't to be intimidating. Their most important function is not to actively fight crime but just to be there.

Bernard Cooks, who served in the Army and the Air Force, told NPR his job is simply to observe and report. He explains, "Our intention is to be here until the last day so kids can figure out that, 'Hey, there's somebody that actually cares about our safety,' and they can feel confident going up and down these streets."

Hyde Park Academy Principal Thomas Trotter agrees. "They don't say a lot; they just watch. They don't get in the way; they just watch. And it's amazing because in the mornings I come early, and I see those guys there, and it's almost like they're there, but they're not there," he said. "I think there's some power in silence."

He told NPR that the number of after-school fights and other incidents around Hyde Park Academy have dropped substantially since the veterans started working for Safe Passage.

Chicago, like many cities, faces a complicated set of problems. The community needs safety. Veterans need work. Kids need adults who care. But this story proves that sometimes, the best solutions are simple.

Read more and listen to the story at NPR.

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