Chicago Tribune

How the Bears are helping kids from Chicago's West and South sides

CHICAGO - As the van pulled up Football Drive and the giant orange "C" on the guard shack became visible, 17-year-old Tim Johnson kept thinking the same thing.

"This can't be real," he said.

Johnson, a senior at Morgan Park High School on the South Side of Chicago, saw the Bears outdoor practice fields covered in snow. He saw the arched roof of the Walter Payton Center.

"This can't be real," he thought again.

And when it came time to stand on the sideline at the Bears' final practice of November, Johnson had one other thought as a pack of defenders jogged past.

"Khalil. Mack," he said with a wide grin. "Man. That is a big man. ... My heart was just beating. I have never been that close to professional football players before."

At Halas Hall, this was another routine Friday with the Bears finishing preparations for that weekend's game against the Giants. But for Johnson and 12 other Chicago teens who traveled to Lake Forest as part of a visit with "My Block, My Hood, My City," this was beyond belief.

"This is a blessing for me," said 18-year-old Trevon Walker, a senior at Phillips High School.

Maybe this was only a day trip from the inner city to the North Shore, a pop-in to see the NFC North's first-place team. But there was far more behind it, a glimpse into a partnership designed to broaden kids' horizons and instill hope.

Earlier this fall, as part of an initiative to increase their social justice outreach, the Bears, selected five nonprofit organizations to partner with. With guidance from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, Bears players identified valuable programs in under-resourced communities, targeting organizations with a focus on educating and empowering youth.

By the Hand Club for Kids; Kicks 4 the City; SAGA; YWCA Lake County.

My Block,

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