The divide between some youth and adults in McLean County is being bridged by conversation, activity and hope.
It's happening one Saturday a month in an innovative program presented by the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, United Way of McLean County, City Life Bloomington, Not In Our Town (NIOT) and ABC Counseling & Family Services.
"The Breakfast Club was an opportunity to create action to bridge that divide," said United Way President David Taylor.
The idea is to connect youth — who may feel disconnected from the community — with the community through discussions, introductions to different places and careers in McLean County, and community service projects. The goal is to decrease youth violence.
While the program has started small, organizers and participants already are seeing some connections.
"Some of the teens are trying to change," Martilisha Harris, 18, of Bloomington, a member of the Boys & Girls Club and the Breakfast Club, said last week at the Boys & Girls Club, 1615 W. Illinois St.
"They need to join a program to help ’em move forward correctly instead of on the wrong path," she said.
"We're trying to build this community connection," said Tony Morstatter, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club. "To see the kids build a community among themselves — that is, in and of itself, successful."
The Breakfast Club would not exist if not for the increase in Bloomington-Normal shootings that began last year. Many of the victims and shooters were teens and 20-somethings.
Last summer, The Pantagraph interviewed teens, young adults and their mentors at YouthBuild McLean County, an alternative school for at-risk youths, and Boys & Girls Club, which has programs for at-risk, low-income children and teens, about what can be done to stop the violence.
Reports of shots fired continued in Bloomington-Normal this year.
In August, United Way and NIOT hosted a community conversation at Miller Park Pavilion about the violence. That was followed by two listening sessions with young people — one at Boys & Girls Club and one with City Life Bloomington that works with teens on relationship-building and social skills.
While community leaders described McLean County as caring, friendly and diverse, youth described it as boring, unsafe and dangerous.
"We are trying to bridge that disconnect," said United Way consultant Kathleen Lorenz.