In addition to the work of local law enforcement combatting the recent increase in gun violence, there are a series of other initiatives and actions intended to have long-term and lasting impacts. One such initiative is Youth Violence Prevention Outreach. This initiative complements the work of the Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma (RESET) Team and the Star City Safe Initiative. This week’s blog post highlights some of the work and achievements of the Outreach Team.
The objective of the Team (which consists of a coordinator and two outreach workers) is to build relationships with youth who may be involved in gang-related activities or at risk of getting involved, as well as their parents or guardians, and then using these relationships to support and connect youth to opportunities and resources. In some instances, the first point of contact comes from someone in Roanoke City Public Schools or from the RESET Team as they conduct their outreach efforts in neighborhoods impacted by recent acts of gun violence. In other instances, the contact may first be made at one of the outreach events being coordinated through the Star City Safe initiative, at the Melrose or Raleigh Court library branches, or the Eureka Recreation Center.
In these instances, the outreach worker makes contact with the referred youth to check-in on how they are doing and learn what challenges may be present in their lives, which often includes bullying, gang association, and lack of food at home. The outreach worker also explores the youth’s interest in employment opportunities. In addition to these conversations, the youth’s parents or guardians are contacted to arrange counseling or mentoring services where appropriate, and connect the youth to other services. Sometimes, it starts with something as simple as getting permission to take them to an event they may never have been to, such as a hockey game; or as significant as getting them connected to the City’s apprenticeship program.
In just the few weeks this initiative has been up and running, we are already seeing positive outcomes. Youth who are seeking to distance themselves from gangs are getting support to help in those efforts. Three of these youth are currently employed through the City’s apprenticeship program, earning “legit” money for the first time in their lives while also gaining practical skills. A number of youth have been connected with professional counselors and mentors, helping them address conflict resolution and overcome past trauma. These are all seemingly small steps, but for those involved, they may become great progress in ensuring they stay on a positive path. One at a time, these differences will help us chip away at the situations that often result in violence.
-- Bob Cowell