A year after it gained official 501(c)(3) status, Wilmington’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence (BRC) launched its updated 2014 strategic plan at a breakfast meeting hosted by PPD on Tuesday.
The meeting, held at PPD headquarters and attended by members of the BRC board as well as other business and government leaders, included a review of the organization’s achievements during its first year.
Kim Nelson, a pharmaceutical consultant who chairs the BRC’s strategic planning committee, and Jana Jones Halls, executive director of the BRC, presented an overview of the plan, which will focus on three areas: safety, health and wellness and academic success for the young people and families in the Northside Youth Enrichment Zone (YEZ).
The safety initiative will concentrate on providing a safe place for YEZ teens to spend time and offering a range of positive activities. Halls talked about the YEZ teen center that opened this summer and will be open on Friday evenings throughout the year. She noted that the teen center came about through the efforts of YEZ young people, who presented their case to Wilmington City Council and won approval to use the Hemenway Center for their gathering spot.
Nelson said that the plan’s health and wellness component will target hunger and food insecurity, while finding places for safe physical activity and developing related social skills, such as teamwork. Halls talked about the formation of a soccer program at Portia Hines Park and mentioned other YEZ community events already held at the park.
The major accomplishment thus far in the area of education and success was this summer’s YEZ Summer Initiative, a program of academic and enrichment activities for 60 rising seventh and eighth graders. The program was conducted in partnership with several arts and social services organizations such as Dreams of Wilmington and Kids Making It, two of the many businesses and organizations working with the commission.
“We’re already planning for next year,” Halls said, adding that the BRC is also looking at programs targeted at young people in the critical transition years between fifth and sixth grades and between eighth and ninth grades. Under consideration as well, she said: a service opportunities program for seventh graders.
Nelson said it is important that YEZ young people understand all the opportunities and options available to them.
“We want to make sure they believe they have opportunities and know that there are people behind them,” Nelson said.
New Hanover County district attorney Ben David spoke about the critical role of the commission in carrying out programs that keep young people safe and give them a vision of a productive, non-violent future.
“We need a long-term approach that will survive budget and election cycles,” David said.
He emphasized that the BRC is not a government program, but a coalition of business, nonprofit and local government entities that seeks to intervene with young people before they become involved in gang activities.
“We want to be a bridge from the area of need to existing services,” he said.
In trying to combat the factors that pull young people into gangs and generate an environment of violence, Wilmington came up with the BRC model by studying best practices from other communities throughout the U.S., said mayor Bill Saffo, who also spoke at the meeting.
“We found a model I believe really works,” he said. “We spend a lot of money on the repression side – police and other law enforcement – but we need to spend more money on the prevention side. After all, it costs $28,000-$30,000 a year to keep a person in prison.”
The concept behind the BRC is not new in Wilmington, Saffo said, noting that discussions about how to alleviate poverty, increase education rates and provide employment for Wilmington’s poorest neighborhoods have been ongoing since 2007.
“We have a lot of kids out there who have significant needs ... but we can make a difference,” Saffo said. “The kids see that ... but they have to see that we care and we will be there. We have a lot of work to do.”