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Southside Children’s Safe Haven

Donzell Matthews is spending his summers at a church on the Southside.At the center

It’s not going well at the Safe Haven program he is part of, as he acts out sometimes.

Matthews, an 11-year-old boy, lives with his sister, Briana Matthews, a 27-year-old mother of two.

“I can be good, people just have to let me do what I have to do and leave me alone, said Donzell Matthews when asked why he misbehaves.

Donzell likes basketball and video games, they have both at Safe Haven but he gets upset when it’s time to stop playing games and get into the educational material.

Briana Matthews is a nurse’s assistant and has a 5-year-old girl and a 10-month-old baby girl to look after also.

“I don’t have as much time to give to Donzell as I want to and most times he’s the one who looks after my 5-year-old after school when I am at work or running errands, he’s very mature for his age but with that he doesn’t like authority and being told what to do, getting into fights and sent home at such a young age,” Briana said. “I just want some help sometime I can’t do it alone especially with a demanding job.”

For some children the Safe haven program is all they have to look forward to in the springs and summers they are away from school. If a child is starving at home, their breakfast, lunch, and pre-dinner snack prepared for them at the program is all they have to sustain them until the next day. In the at home retrospect, many of the kids are alone more than not. Donzell is a similar case, he does not have a mother or father that looks after him, he has been raised by his older sister Briana Matthews for three years since his grandmother died.

“My granny took care of me for a long time since I was a baby, I didn’t have my mom or nobody, I love my sister and I miss my granny she used to cook all my favorite desserts and she was really nice,” Donzell said.

Safe Haven

The Safe haven program offers assistance that Briana can’t get all the time, she has little to support herself and the three children and can’t afford day care for all but one child.

“The baby goes to day care from 7:30 a.m. until about 8 p.m. when I get off and by then I am exhausted, I can’t go over homework and cook a large dinner every night,” Briana said.

Chicago Public Schools is partnering up with organizations that host a Safe Haven program, offering free summer meals and recreational programs for K-12 children. The Safe Haven program supplies over 85 children nutrition they need with three meals a day, the educational staple with math, language and reading exercises, and the physical challenges conducive to health and wellness in extracurricular classes such as Capoeira.

Avalon Park on Chicago’s South Side is one of many south and west side neighborhoods to host the Safe haven programs for the youth. The office of Faith-Based Initiatives of Chicago Public Schools, along with the leadership of Rev. Renaldo Kyles provides a connection between Chicago Public Schools and the faith based community. These communities are dedicated in gaining the minds of the youth of today and steering them in the right directions away from gang and drug violence.

The Safe Haven program creates a dependable safe space for the parents and children of Chicago during high violence periods in the city at no cost.

Commander James Jones of the Chicago Police Department said that the major complaints from residents are about the loitering of juveniles.

The free program runs from June 30th through August 8th Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. till 2:00 p.m. It has four segments, winter break, after school, spring break and summer break. In collaborative efforts over 120 established partners serve over 12,000 students annually according to the Chicago Public Schools website.

NOTE: This story was edited to remove information which could not be verified.

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