Newport News uses jobs to fight youth violence

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News plans to use jobs to fight the rising tide of violence in the city’s East End. This summer, the city will employ close to 200 young people from high-risk neighborhoods.

South of Mercury Boulevard is where city officials said an epidemic of violence has taken place. In April alone, leaders said they’ve seen several murders in the area.

“It’s not saying, crime is not happening anywhere else in the city, but again, that’s just where the highest concentration is,” said MaRhonda Echols, Newport News’ youth and gang violence prevention coordinator. “If you look at it, we have limited resources. You’re looking at where you should plug your resources in the part of the city that needs it the most.”

Echols said they’ve concentrated their efforts in getting young people off the streets and into the work force. “If you don’t have anything to do with your time, that’s a greater opportunity to find something negative to do with your time,” she said.

Last year, the city launched the Summer Training and Enrichment Program (STEP). More than 160 young adults, between the ages of 16 and 24, from high-risk neighborhoods took part. For six weeks, they got paid, received on-the-job training with local companies, and saw a world beyond their city block.

“It was a very, overall positive experience, exposing them to different areas of the community,” Echols said. “I mean, there were some kids who’d never left the southeast community. So, being able to take them to sights outside the city was a huge eye opener for them.”

This year the city expects more than 200 young people to participate. They’ve made it into a 10-week program and added education to the summer schedule.

“If they do not have a GED, we are also building that in,” Echols said. “They’ll have an opportunity to take the GED classes and take the test for free, as part of the program.”

The program begins mid-June, and the city is looking for eligible young people and businesses to participate.

Applications for youth are available online at www.nnva.gov/1907/Youth-Gang-Violence-Prevention or can be picked up and returned to any of the following locations:

  • C. Waldo Scott Center, 3100 Wickham Avenue
  • Doris Miller Community Center, 2814 Wickham Avenue
  • Downing Gross Cultural Arts Center, 2410 Wickham Avenue
  • Good Seed Good Ground, 115 – 28th Street
  • Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board, 500 Medical Dr, Suite B (Hampton)
  • Heritage High School, 5800 Marshall Avenue
  • Newport News City Hall, Lobby Security Desk, 2400 Washington Avenue
  • Newport News Department of Human Services, Lobby Reception Desk, 6060 Jefferson Ave
  • Newport News Redevelopment and Housing, 618 – 18th Street
  • Pearl Bailey Library, 2510 Wickham Avenue
  • The Moton Community House, 2101 Jefferson Avenue

Any Newport News businesses and organizations that would like to provide summer opportunities to STEP participants — at no cost to the businesses — should contact Echols at (757) 926-3678 or via mechols@nnva.gov.

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