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Chicago community workers in violent neighborhoods receive mental health training

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CHICAGO (CHI) — Chicago health officials have trained community workers to help people struggling with mental health issues.

They’re building a better Chicago by taking a page out of the pandemic playbook to help with potential future situations.

Throwing a squishy ball is part of the warm-up exercise for this Chicago Department of Public Health mental health training course. Participants learned how physical activity can heal trauma and stress

“These people are in the trenches, they’re on the front lines working hard every day to respond to some of the most traumatic experiences in the city,” said Pharlone Toussaint of the Center for Healing & Justice Through Sport.

In partnership with other organizations, CDPH offers four-week mental health training courses for people working in 15 of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.

“We are taking the COVID approach and using it in lessons learned to address violence as a public health crisis,” said CDPH Mental Health Operations Director Kathy Calderon.

Tuesday’s practice took place in the South Lawndale/Little Village neighborhood. Many of the participants grew up in the area and now work as youth mentors in schools or community organizations.

“I work with children who have a lot of trauma, whether it’s gang-related violence, family trauma or abuse,” said training participant Caroline Linares.

Participants said the training taught them how trauma affects the brain. They said the skills learned in the classroom would change the way they communicate with the children they mentor.

“I feel like when you go to schools for the first time, you think there’s something wrong with them, they’re just finding out about life,” said training participant Marcus Cavazos. “I feel like if you take that approach instead of going to solve their problems immediately, like just learning who they are, how they live.”

The city hopes the training will give various community actors a basic toolkit to use during what could be a violent summer.

“There are people we’ve never met now, we have that connection and maybe we can collaborate in the future,” said training participant Esteban Caldero.

While the training ended in South Lawndale on Tuesday, it will continue in the other 14 target neighborhoods throughout the summer, ending in mid-August just in time for the start of the school year.

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Written by Natalia Chi

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