Thanks to youth advocacy programs, two girls at Julian High School are now thriving at water polo
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Many have pointed lately to the need for more programming that would engage Chicago teenagers.

Since 2015, Choose to Change has connected young people heavily impacted by trauma and wraparound supports. CBS 2’s Jackie Kostek visited Percy L. Julian High School, 10330 S. Elizabeth St., to meet two girls now thriving.

Those girls, Jasmine Walker and Kyla Bridges, are finishing up their first season of water polo.

“I’m still scared to this day, like, sitting by the water,” said Kyla, a freshman.

Indeed, both are still pushing past fear. 

“I didn’t like putting my head under water because I thought I would drown,” said Jasmine, a sophomore.

When they joined the water polo team, neither girl could even swim. 

“Showing up is the first thing,” said Kelley Hardy, a youth advocate for Youth Advocate Programs. “And to know that it’s not just yourself – it’s your team; it’s your coach – even for myself, for me to show up for them, you know, actually shows them that someone cares.” 

Youth Advocate Programs is a nonprofit that works closely with the Choose to Change program. Hardy works with both Jasmine and Kyla, who were referred by school staff – and she got them both involved with water polo. 

“Ms. Kelley helped me and she reminded me that like, just put your mind to it and you can do anything you want to – so that’s what I did,” said Kyla. “Here I am now.”

For Jasmine and Kyla, and other students involved with the Youth Advocate Programs, it’s not just about connecting them to a team sport or after-school activity. It is also about providing all the resources that can help them stay on a good path.

“We ask things about their home life, their social life, their education, if they would like to be employed; have summer jobs,” said Hardy. 

Jasmine and Kyla will both be employed this summer through One Summer Chicago – and are growing socially and emotionally through other services that address anger management and conflict resolution. 

“I used to always think when I was younger that I’m the only one; I’m the only one that feels this way; nobody else knows what I’m going through – and I used to always like have an attitude,” said Kyla. “I didn’t like opening up to people.”

But in learning to be vulnerable – both in the water and out of it – the girls say they feel a shift from an old mindset to a new one.

“I’d been thinking about quitting a lot of things. Not just water polo,” said Jasmine. “But I’ve been told by people online that I would never be nothing; that I’m not nothing.”

But that outlook has changed. 

“If I left the team, the girls would be missing one player, so I didn’t want them to be losing one player,” Jasmine said. 

Kyla is actually Jasmine’s substitute. 

“If I don’t show, who knows if they’d be able to play a game or not?” said Jasmine.

“If she don’t show up, then I’m going to have to have to play the whole game!” said Kyla.

The program usually lasts six months, but the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed for some students to remain in it longer. Jasmine has been in it for about a year, Kyla for about six months.

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