CHICAGO (CNN) - On a chilly afternoon this fall, teenagers across Chicago's South Side were busy at work, earning $8.75 an hour to hand out fliers with a message of non-violence.
"Our message that we're giving out today is about being healthy," said 18-year-old Lucia Eloisa. "One of the key pointers is about taking time to reflect and seek inner peace."
Eloisa's part-time job was paid for by an ambitious state-funded program to keep at-risk teenagers out of trouble. It pumped nearly $55 million into Chicago's toughest neighborhoods and three of its suburbs to stem unrelenting gang violence.
A four-month CNN investigation found that not only did the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) pay teens to hand out fliers promoting inner peace, it also paid these at-risk teens to take field trips to museums, march in a parade with the governor, and even attend a yoga class to learn how to handle stress.
Earlier this year, state legislators passed a resolution demanding the state conduct an audit on the program. That audit is under way.
Supporters say the program kept kids off the streets of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods and helped expose inner city youth to a broader culture, as well as cultivate future leaders.
But critics wonder if it was just a waste of taxpayers' money, considering that the city's murder rate has risen since the program began two years ago.
Or worse: was it just an effort to buy votes ahead of a tight race for governor?