Taking Back the Community: Getting teens out of gangs and into jobs

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) - Newport News city leaders are focused on getting teens out gangs and into jobs.

Three years ago, the city started a program aimed at doing just that. They do this through the office of Youth and Gang Violence Prevention.

Everyday, Terry Bonner walks the streets.

"This is Marshall Courts,” Bonner said. “It is one of the neighborhoods in Newport News that I canvass. It is definitely one of the areas we consider a hot spot for juvenile crime."

Bonner is not from here this area, but he has quickly fit in.

"After the community kind of figured out who this bald-headed, bearded guy was, I was pretty much OK out here, but I understand my boundaries," Bonner added.

Bonner started working in the city's Youth & Gang Violence Prevention group two years ago.

"I will come out here and I will get all the word out about all our programs that the city has," Bonner said.

Bonner reaches out to at-risk teenagers.

"This neighborhood has a history of gang violence,” he added.  “We are trying to go right at gang members and pull them right out."

He recruits the teens to join another group, a city funded program called STEP, which stands for Summer Training and Enrichment Program. The city spends $1 million a year to find teenagers jobs and get them off the streets.

"You just have to make better choices," said 16-year-old Shalexy Richardson.

Richardson found herself headed down the wrong road until she met Bonner. She is now in the STEP program, working at a daycare.

"Everybody deserves a second chance,” Richardson said. “I got a second chance when I didn't deserve it, but I feel like once you are given that second chance, you can do way better."

Bonner walks the streets talking with teens and their families. He says he can’t stand to go to another teenage funeral.

"I served in the Marine Corps,” Bonner said. “I’m a Desert Storm veteran, but seeing a child in a casket is a life-changing event. It makes you understand how important our job is."

The program is designed to cut down crime. Bonner would love to see more success stories, which is why he keeps walking.

"You don't get a lot of them, but when you get one it makes you want to keep going," he added.

Tuesday on WAVY News 10, Jason Marks will show how the STEP program works.

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