As someone who grew up on the West Side, Chicago Police Sgt. Jermaine Harris knows better than most the importance of giving kids in violence-plagued neighborhoods something meaningful to do.
So when Harris, 40, learned last year that grant money for his Little League program in the Austin neighborhood had dried up, the part-time coach went to work.
“What do you mean, the grant is over?” Harris, 40, remembers saying to himself. “What about all of these relationships over the last two or three years … that (Chicago police) officers have had with the kids? How do you sever that?”
On Wednesday, in recognition off his efforts to not only save, but vastly expand, the league, the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation named Harris its officer of the month.
“Sgt. Harris realized that the job of a police officer is a tough one,” said Phil Cline, executive director of the foundation and a former Chicago police superintendent, speaking at the Chicago Patrolmen’s Federal Credit Union in the West Loop. “And while the violence he sees is hard for an adult to see, when a child sees or experiences violence, it can change them forever.”
Working with City of Refuge, a nonprofit community organization, Harris has helped raise about $15,000 and had a hand in getting various companies to donate equipment to the cause. The league, which originally had about 100 youth players, now has 500, organizers say. Instead of four teams playing in one police district, there are 20 playing across four districts. Volunteers come from the ranks of the police department, area churches and other community organizations.
“There are tons and tons of great families that are in these neighborhoods, but we wanted to make sure they had a place where they could come together, where they could be safe,” Harris said.
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