South Bend plans new programs to help youth avoid gangs - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

South Bend plans new programs to help youth avoid gangs

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In the state of Indiana, St. Joseph County has one of the highest number of juvenile offenders in the state, with 45, just behind Lake County with 47 offenders.

One opinion on why the numbers are so high comes from "Dave," a man who was raised on the westside of South Bend, who has asked to remain anonymous. Growing up in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, Dave says gang activity was all around him. He says at the time when he grew up, several different gangs were operating in the area from organized national gangs to neighborhood groups, and also groups of kids who continued to "misbehave."

Dave says the organized gangs at the time he grew up were Latin Kings, Bloods, and the Crips. Now, he says he's not sure what's still there. His mother moved his family, he says, when things started to get really bad. "It was the constant drive-by shootings and stray bullets that made my mom move us to another part of town," he says. Moving just 10 minutes away from his first home at Beacon Hill, Dave says he was able to get away from the larger organized gangs out of major cities.

Dave says he was confronted by gangs, but says he had a protective barrier: his parents. "They were very instrumental in making sure education was always my priority. I loved to learn. I think maybe the gangs thought I was too nerdy and geeky to join. That also was my protective barrier." After growing up and never becoming a member of a gang, Dave gave back through a program that is no longer in existence: "Street Smarts" through the Boys and Girls Club of South Bend. There, he saw first-hand the effects of gang influence on kids. "You knew which ones were too far in and which ones could be helped. Certain kids would start to wear certain colors, dress a certain way, but those kids were the ones who most likely already had a family member, brothers, fathers, uncles, who were already in the gang."

Dave says it all comes down to the environmental and economic factors for kids. "Kids who are raised in an area that's under-served with no outlets are the most susceptible." Dave, who is now married, says growing up, everyday he was in survival mode. "My wife and I were discussing one time how she was so worried as a child to get to class on time. I told her, 'I was worried about getting home alive.'" He says when there is such a disconnect in the community, that's where gangs thrive. "Gangs are an outlet for kids to feel like they are a part of something. If there is nothing for them to feel like they are a part of, gangs are the answer."

The Boys and Girls Club of South Bend's "Street Smarts" program was shut down almost 5 years ago due to funding from grants. But with the recent crime spree South Bend has seen, the organization plans to reach out more than ever. Camille Robinson, Executive Director, says now more than ever, they're targeting teens. "Right now, we have about 30 teens enrolled in our after school program, which is kind of low. Normally we have about 40 to 50 kids," she says.

The Boys and Girls Club currently doesn't have a program specifically targeted at gang awareness, but they are focusing heavily on education. "We have a program that's based around STEM, using math and sciences to get their minds in the right place."

Dave says the only solution to keeping kids out of gangs is to give them more activities, ones that will keep them off the street and in a better place.

Deputy Mayor Mark Neal says the city is currently putting a lot of effort into the South Bend Group Violence Intervention Strategy. It unites community leaders around the common mission of saving lives and improving public safety. The Group Violence Intervention is a partnership among community leaders from law enforcement, government, education, civil service, health care, and faith-based agencies. It is based on a model developed by Professor David Kennedy who wrote the book about crime-prevention efforts on groups most associated with gun violence, entitled "Don't Shoot". Kennedy is the Director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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