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Newport News receives grant for youth violence prevention

Jordan Crawford | 10/3/2013, 11:18 a.m.
NN Mayor Mckinley Price points out that the grant is needed because the city currently has at least 19 national gangs in the city.

When we invest and believe in our children’s futures, the possibilities for their success are endless. The Office of Justice Programs’ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) realized this and awarded the City of Newport News an $870, 316 federal grant for youth violence prevention.

Robert Listenbee, administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, commends the city’s efforts to decrease youth and gang violence and thus, youth-focused programs in Newport News whose focus is reducing crime and violence will receive the three-year grant.

According to listenbee, the money will specifically go towards expanding the community’s Targeted Outreach Program (TOP). Better known by residents as the Teamwork-Options-Pathways for Success Program, TOP is a collaboration between churches, non-profit organizations, and the city itself.

TOP was established under the Keeping Our Kids Safe Violence Prevention Network. It is an interest and needs-based program designed to connect youth with services and programs that will support positive behavior, increase self-esteem, and build upon positive developmental assets.

When youth experience low self-esteem, lack positive role models in their lives, do poorly in school, witness violence, and associate with peers who use drugs, they can be at risk for becoming involved in delinquent or violent behavior, or gang activity themselves.

In a speech given by Newport News Mayor McKinley Price outlining a 10-step plan to reclaim the city’s youth and neighborhoods, the stakes the city is up against were said to be high. “At least 19 national gangs have a presence in this city and over 2,400 people belong to them,” he said. This fact reiterates why TOP and the grant are necessary.

The program strives to refocus youth into a positive direction by building on their strengths and connecting them to a positive support system.

Congressman Bobby Scott says youth programs are to get youth on the right path and keep them on it, rather than waiting for them to get in trouble and be put in jail.

“I’ve always maintained that we could avoid many tragedies and save a lot of money if we invested money up front rather than waiting for crimes to occur,” he said at the grant award ceremony. Scott also mentioned that crime policy focuses on after-the-action efforts, which has led to wasting taxpayer money.

Traci Snell, the youth services supervisor who wrote the winning grant application, said the funds will go toward expanding TOP to provide direct services to young people in the city’s three precincts. The federal funds will be used to provide about 225 youths with “wrap-around” services, which will include counseling, therapy, training, activities and other programs. She said the grant will also fund efforts to provide leadership training to young people in the city.

The grant will also help TOP expand its community and family events and activities. Snell said the city and its partners offer family fun days, sports tournaments and other events to promote safety and community.

“We’re trying to change community norms regarding violence, to change the culture from a community standpoint,” she said. “It’s relationship building. We’re creating kind of a safe zone.”