DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA)– These teenagers are clearing out the old. “We get to come see our friends and come work in the morning instead of just sleeping,” said 14 year old Zander Martin. They’re making way for something much greater to grow in the process. It’s all in honor of Shemilah Sanders. “That was my baby. My baby daughter. She was 22 years old,” said Shemuel Sanders. Shemilah Sanders was shot near the Garfield Underpass in June and died. Her father Shemuel Sanders started Shemilah’s Outreach Program in her honor. Students aged 13 to 17 years old are a part of it. “It hurts me at night. When I lay down, I see her. When I’m with these boys, that gives me that comfort,” said Shemuel Sanders.
The students are learning, and they’re getting paid to clean up their community. “That’s why we started this outreach, try to reach these youth, keep them out of trouble,” said Sanders. They started with about 20 teenagers, and now they have at least 30 participating. Organizers say they can see the difference it’s making in them.
“It’s giving them hope that people really care about them, and so it’s a lot of male role models that aren’t in their lives, fathers, grandfathers, brothers, cousins, and so by us coming together as a community, I feel like they see that,” said Demarcus Sanders, an adult leader with Shemilah’s Outreach Center, “And we can be one big community without violence.”
Although Shemilah may not be here to see it, Sanders says his daughter’s name will not be forgotten. “I don’t want this to happen to none of them. It was devastating to me, and I want my daughter to live on in these boys,” said Sanders. The teenagers who are participating are paid through community sponsors and donations. So far, they’ve raised around $12,000. However, Sanders is still trying to raise another $7,000 for the program. To learn more, you can contact Shemuel Sanders at email@example.com.