The loss of young lives to gang violence has been a sad yet prevalent theme in the news media. Gang recruiters target kids who are being bullied or abused and make them feel like they can have safety and camaraderie if they join. East Chicago, IN native and founder of the Reclaim Our Kids program, Patrick Sabaitis, knows this process all too well, as he was once a gang recruiter in Northwest Indiana.
“We’ve done our various crimes,” said Sabaitis of himself and other former gang members who now work with the Reclaim Our Kids program. “We can’t take that back. What we can do is save these kids’ lives.”
Sabaitis has worked to turn his intimate knowledge and experiences with NWI gangs into something positive. He began helping disadvantaged children and families, who are most susceptible to gang violence and recruitment, 12 years ago. Since then, he has founded the Sabaitis Educational Institution, Inc, a nonprofit organization with the mission of educating communities on steps they need to take in order to “reclaim our kids” who have been effected and influenced by local gangs.
The Reclaim Our Kids initiative, with funding from organizations like the Foundations of East Chicago, has become the flagship program of the Sabaitis Educational Institution. The program sends speakers into schools, meetings and other venues to get the word out about ways that community members and organizations can recognize kids who may need help. The program also offers mentorship opportunities for at-risk youth to deter them from going down a dangerous path.
Sabaitis and others with the Reclaim Our Kids program firmly believe that if communities and schools can stop bullying and abuse, they can make a huge dent in the number of kids who are drawn into the gang lifestyle. For more information on the Reclaim Our Kids program, visit www.sabaitisei.org.