SAVING OUR SONS

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The man behind the mission to help boys become men

  A chiseled-physique and a firm handshake accompany an infectiously big smile. It seems to befit the passionate demeanor of Anthony DiVittorio. He is a man on a mission. He may stand a few inches short of six feet but is becoming a giant in the minds of many at-risk young Chicago male youths who spend time in the Becoming A Man program started by DiVittorio, who hopes that by making a difference in the life of one young male at a time that he is insuring a brighter future for all Chicagoans.

 Through its program, which includes mentoring and counseling, BAM’s approach teaches young men five principles above all others: Integrity, Accountability, Self-Determination, Positive Anger Expression and Visionary Goal Setting.
     The aim is to help troubled boys by challenging them to become responsible and in-touch young men. And DiVittorio is apparently doing it by the dozens. But for BAM and its founder, it hasn’t always been an easy ride and there are still miles to go.

The Birth of Becoming A Man
              “The genesis of BAM is simple, yet complicated,” said DiVittorio.
                 In 1995, DiVittorio’s son was born and so was an epiphany that caused him to question his own manhood. He says he had issues with his father growing up as well as other experiences that molded him into the man he would become. He said he wanted to share those experiences with others.
                During graduate school, DiVittorio was introduced to MensWork, a collective of men working to educate, mobilize and organize men to prevent all forms of sexual and domestic violence. The group, DiVittorio said, sought proactively to engage men as allies to work alongside women to eliminate domestic and sexual violence from communities. A conference he attended was a workshop in which experiences and rites of passage were discussed.
             “This was music to my ears,” said DiVittorio.
               As he progressed in his graduate studies, DiVittorio gained experience in traditional counseling and spent his time asking troubled boys some questions they never heard before: What is love? What is a man? How do we know these things?
               Through their responses DiVittorio said he began to see the need for the open discussion of all feelings and an acknowledgement of the inequalities between how societal ideals are formed and the reality in which they exist. He says he began to reform his own ideas, perceptions and misconceptions.
              “I didn’t know it at the time, but BAM was starting to form,” DiVittorio said.
               Around 2000, DiVittorio graduated and began working as a counselor for Youth Guidance, a not-for-profit that “assists at-risk students in gaining academic, social and emotional skills needed to stay on track in school, graduate and seek further education.” Youth Guidance’s major sources of funding include government contracts, corporations, foundations, individuals, the United Way of Chicago, and special events, according to the Youth Guidance website.
                BAM is one of the newer additions to the family of community programs run under Youth Guidance. And its leader has survived the worrisome nights of infancy and has not only learned how to crawl but is now running with close supervision.. BAM is his personal passion and project. He admitted it’s his baby.
                BAM has been implemented in 18 Chicago high schools and elementary schools and has been heralded for its use of cognitive behavior therapy to improve students’ ability to manage their anger and emotions and help them learn to avoid violent conflicts.

Growing Pains
               Becoming A Man-Sports Edition, a collaboration with World Sports Chicago provided hundreds of adolescent Chicago-area boys with a combination of cognitive behavior therapy and access to non-traditional sports. Although once in 15 schools, the program is in only six due to budget restrictions and grant regulations, according to DiVittorio.
               The sports offers students not involved in basketball or track an opportunity to be part of a team and enjoy healthy social interaction in ways that bring the five BAM principles into play.
               “At risk kids don’t usually make the traditional sports teams because their grades aren’t good enough,” said DiVittorio. “When we bring in new sports like archery, boxing and judo, everyone is at zero. They all get to learn together.”
               DiVittorio said BAM is counting largely on private sponsorship for the coming fiscal year.

The Future of BAM
                DiVittorio sees private funding as the key to the future of BAM as well as its expansion outside of the Chicago area.
                DiVittorio’s superior at Youth Guidance, Dave Simpson, director of counseling services connects BAM’s current success with its “genuine” nature, like DiVittorio hopes for expansion of the initiative in the future.
               Michelle Adler Morrison, chief executive officer of Youth Guidance, describes the non-profit corporation as one offering, “Comprehensive services to at-risk youth for nearly a century.”
             “We take pride in over 86 years of committed work in Chicago,” said Morrison. “Today we reach over 14,000 students and families in nearly 70 schools.”
By Paul Mulvihill

Related Links:
Youth Guidance's B.A.M

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