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Mary Long (center) leads a peace circle during Sacred Ground Ministries’ summer program.
In March 2012, gun violence claimed Mary Long’s only child. Despite her pain, grief and feelings of hopelessness over her own loss, Long wanted to help others facing similar trauma.
She founded Sacred Ground Ministries, a nonprofit organization in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood that mentors at-risk youth who are coping with effects of community violence.
In 2018, Sacred Ground Ministries received one of UChicago Medicine’s violence prevention and recovery summer grants.
“Our goal is to reach the youth who are left behind and lost,” Long said. “They’re having academic challenges, drug challenges, gang challenges, violence challenges.”
Sacred Ground Ministries’ summer violence recovery program offered typical camp programming — crafts, swimming and sports. Other activities, like conflict-resolution workshops and daily peace circles, were reminders of the challenges students face outside of camp.
During the peace circles, the group gathered to discuss specific topics, like respect or kindness. After one particularly violent weekend in the city, the students addressed the subject of violence. Of 15 participants in the circle, 12 had a personal experience with violence affecting either a member of their family, a friend or someone in the community.
“That was just really stunning,” Long said.
Long is motivated by witnessing the personal growth of her students and hearing their feedback. “They say, ‘I feel safe. I feel comfortable. We love to come here and be here. It’s a place for us to be off the streets.’”