Veterans in the Chicago area are working hard to ensure young student get to school safe.
Non-profit organization Leave No Veteran Behind started the Safe Passage Program in 2011 after realizing that many veterans struggled to pay back their student loans after leaving active duty. The Safe Passage Program deploys vets to monitor unsafe Chicago neighborhoods as students walk to school. In exchange for their service, Leave No Veteran Behind will help these vets pay off outstanding student loans and look for employment.
The program does pay veterans for their work, but after 100-400 hours of community service, the vets are eligible for the Retroactive Scholarship Program, which pays off outstanding student loans. So far, scholarship program has paid back more than $250,000. The Safe Passage Program gives veterans the opportunity to earn an income while giving them the flexibility to look for full-time jobs.
Every school day, 40-50 veterans arrive in heavily gang-affiliated neighborhoods to watch students as they walk to school. According to Eli Williamson, co-founder of Leave No Veteran Behind, the Safe Passage Program has significantly decreased youth violence in the areas they patrol.
Veterans in the program work actively with the Chicago Police Department, crossing guards and other members other community to assist in keeping students safe.
“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,’” Safe Passage Program veteran Bernard Cooks said in an interview with NPR. “And they can feel confident going up and down these streets”
You can learn more about the program and meet some of the veterans involved in the video below: