Newport News battles violence with youth job training

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — There’s a success story out of Newport News: hundreds of young adults successfully completed an enrichment program Friday.

Newport News’ Summer Training and Enrichment Program (S.T.E.P.) is designed to help shape the minds and futures of young people, ages 16 to 24. It’s also helping a few of them earn a steady paycheck.

Friday felt like graduation day for Karon Michaux Hampton, but it was from a school very different than his high school.

“At my high school, a couple of days we had lock-downs,” Hampton said. “We had threats of people actually trying to get into the school to kill people. It was kind of a traumatizing experience.”

At 19 living in the southeast community of Newport News, Karon found his future on a flier at the beginning of summer.

“I figured I’d try something new, with the new S.T.E.P. program coming out … for kids in the southeast community. I felt like it was really a good opportunity,” he said.

Karon joined more than 300 others at S.T.E.P.

“The participants do field trips, they have mentors, they have business relationships, they have bank accounts, they have a whole variety of things,” said MaRhonda Echols, with the city’s Youth and Gang Violence Prevention. “We set them up with on the course of these 10 weeks to prepare them for the workforce. Some of them have never had a job before.”

Karon did his on-the-job training at the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank.

“I could always relate to cooking,” he said with a smile. “I like to eat, and I like to eat good on top of that. I always wanted to learn the professional way to cook.”

“I was actually surprised at how young he was and that he was at the top of his class in a lot of the attributes,” Foodbank CEO Karen Joyner said about Karon.

On this graduation day, Karon and 20 others left the S.T.E.P. program, but with a lot more than just memories.

“I actually got a job offer from Farm Fresh as a bakery’s assistant,” he said. “I’m also getting ready to leave and go back to college in the spring.”