The Peace Corner: Hope on the West Side

Startups need not be limited to businesses alone. On Chicago’s West Side, one man is helping a generation of the city’s youth to start up their lives.

Second chances don’t come easily. Father Maurizio, a Catholic missionary who founded the Peace Corner on Chicago’s West Side five years ago, knows this better than most. His story, full of other interwoven stories of new chances and aspirations, is a long and interesting one, beginning with a childhood in Italy that lead to an early life of missionary work in Africa and finally to his current home in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. There, where so many others have believed their own paths at an end, Father Maurizio is teaching them to create new ones. There, in a section of the city where theft is common and violence often a way of life, Father Maurizio keeps the windows of his little center at the corner of Lavergne and Madison uncovered and unbarred. Should someone look in, he or she would see a large TV, tables lined with computers, a pool table, and other valuables. And despite this open display, the Peace Corner has never been broken into.



That’s partially because the Peace Corner isn’t just a name; Father Maurizio and his staff have managed to establish an actual peace in this troubled area of the Windy City. Part of this is due to the astonishing variety of services that can be found in the little building. Since its inception in 2002, the Peace Corner has been dedicated to offering services ranging from GED preparation and legal advice to simply providing a neutral place in which to relax and enjoy the air conditioning. On most days, the center is bustling with activity, with an average of 60-70 youths visiting the Corner to socialize. On a number of occasions, gang conflict has been prevented through the mediation of the Peace Corner staff, which itself is made up of some members who have given up life on the streets to aid Father Maurizio in his task.



Yet at the center of it all is Father Maurizio himself, whose presence alone is responsible for much of the center’s success. Somehow, his thin form occasionally virtually disappears within the mass of youths scattered about the tables and couches, but his presence is always felt. He laughs at the jokes that are told, and sits down to watch an intense card game while managing to comment on the gains a young man is making with the weight training equipment in the corner. While a passerby on the sidewalk outside may be subject to a light jeer or two, inside there is nothing but respect. Respect for Father Maurizio, and, just as importantly, respect for rival gang members as all in attendance shoot pool or laugh at afternoon television.



It is this simple respect, Father Maurizio believes, that is the true secret of the Peace Corner’s success. “We are not judgmental; we don’t ask questions,” he says. “We say that here’s a place with something new.” On the rare occasion when an argument breaks out in the center, Father Maurizio says that simply telling the offenders not to come back for a day is usually enough to end any tension, so powerful is the respect that local youths have for the facility.



And the Peace Corner is growing. And it is not the mere growth of numbers as more youths venture beyond the glass doors, it is also a perceptible growth of peace and determination of the sort that inspires one to believe that a more peaceful world may be attainable after all. A portion of America’s Best Companies’™ earnings go to aid Father Maurizio in this growth, in part to help the Peace Corner to expand the main center to include an indoor gymnasium in the vacant lot next door along with additional space for more services. Unfortunately, the project has yet to begin, mainly due to a few speed bumps related to the local bureaucracy, but that doesn’t daunt this man whose crusades have reached over three continents. After experiencing a number of setbacks, Father Maurizio has always found a good reason to expand the center, and through his efforts, groundbreaking may begin soon after all.



Why not give it a try, there’s always a second chance.





If you are interested in what the Peace Corner Youth Center does and would like to get involved, you can call them at 773/261-5330 or email Father Maurizio at fr.Maurizio@thepeacecorner.org. If you would like to share with the Peace Corner and the dream of a better future for Chicago’s youths please send a donation to: The Peace Corner P.O. Box 440113 Chicago IL. 60644 or visit www.thepeacecorner.org.



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Reader Comments


Wednesday, March 5, 2008 at 12:43 AM
Matthew79 says:
This sounds like a really great idea... kudos!

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