Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy in Pilsen receives grant for youth development and restorative justice programs

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Carina Gutierrez has always considered herself to be “troubled youth”.

At 17, she was imprisoned. On her 18th birthday, she was ordered to enroll in school on pain of re-incarceration. But it was in the middle of the semester, and most schools refused to admit it.

Then her mother told her about a school not far from their home in Little Village: the Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy in Pilsen, an alternative school focused on restorative and social justice.

“Without hesitation, they welcomed me,” said Gutierrez.

On Monday, the school’s dedication to Gutierrez and other students in similar circumstances was recognized with an $ 80,000 grant through the Cook County Justice Advisory Council.

Throughout her enrollment at the Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy – affectionately known as ‘Rudy’ by staff and students in honor of the school’s founder, Rudy Lozano – Gutierrez said she received support. that she never thought she had.

Staff member of the Carina Gutierrez school
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

“I was not judged, I was very supported,” she said. “I was accompanied to court each time and the teachers wrote letters on my behalf. They gave me the opportunity that no one else wanted to give me.

When she graduated in 2009, Gutierrez wanted to stay in the community of “Rudy” and help young people facing the same difficulties as her. In 2014, she applied for a post at the registry.

Today, Gutierrez begins his seventh year of work on enrollment, attendance and program coordination for the school located at 2570 S. Blue Island Ave. The school offers a two-year program for students aged 15 to 21.

The grant is part of a $ 1.5 million investment in community organizations through the Justice Advisory Council, said Toni Preckwinkle, chairman of Cook County Council.

The council aims to reduce the population of Cook County Jail and Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center through criminal and juvenile justice reform and the development of public safety policies.

“We have learned that we need to invest in people and our communities if we are to see positive changes in our neighborhoods,” Preckwinkle said at an out of school celebration on Monday. “This approach has the power to transform marginalized communities across Cook County. “

The Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy plans to use the grant to support programs for their most at-risk youth, director Jennifer Ventimiglia told the crowd, which included staff, alumni and government officials.

The Rudy Lozano leadership program will benefit the most from the grant, covering staff allowances, case management and mental health services, academic and career counseling, and restorative justice training.

“With this approach, it is really about training young people so that they can be mediators between peers and not only arbitrate the conflicts that occur within the school but within their community”, explained Ventimiglia. .

The funds will also be used for student retreats and a digital media component with Luv City Media “for healing and for creating a different story” about students and their community.

Sebastian Zamora, a 2020 graduate and now an academic advisor at the school, said he hopes this grant will mark the start of something new for his alma mater.

“Every time I sit down with a young person, I see myself in them, having to grow up in the community with very few resources,” Zamora said. “I think this is a great help for our students, and I hope we can get more funding so that we can offer more support to the students.”

School staff member Sebastian Zamora poses for a portrait at the Instituto Justice and Leadership Academy at 2570 S. Blue Island Avenue in central Italy on Monday, August 30, 2021.

Sebastian Zamora School Staff Member
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen newspaper coverage in communities on the south and west sides.

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