Taking Back the Community: Summer jobs reducing crime in Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) - Hundreds of teenagers are working this summer thanks to a Newport News program aimed at getting young people jobs and keeping them off the streets.

Three years ago, STEP (Summer Training and Enrichment Program) was started. The program is designed to find teenagers between the ages of 16 and 24 summer employment.

"We do the interviewing, we do their screening and we do any initial assessments,” said MaRhonda Echols, with the office of Youth & Gang Violence Prevention. “We found out what the need is of the business community and then we do the match for them."

The city spends $1 million year on the program. They pay teenagers to work in businesses and businesses get 10 weeks of free help.

"Often times, these young people will get into trouble because they don't have anything to do so we are trying to find things to occupy their time," Echols added.

Echols says in 2015, juvenile crime was down 17 percent in the summer.

"There's a cliché that says nothing beats a bullet like a job," Echols said.

22-year-old Alexis Robinson is working in a place she grew up coming as a kid.

“I told them I want to get the Boys and Girls Club on Hampton Avenue, because I’ve been coming here for years," Robinson said.

Robinson says it’s nice to have a little extra cash plus it gives her something to do over the summer.

“It's important with teens and young adults to get involved with STEP to help you grow and to have something to do," Robinson added.

Robinson is one of the 520 teens out there working this year, along with 16-year-old Shalexy Richardson.

Richardson is working at a daycare facility. She hopes to someday be a pediatrician.

"It keeps you out of trouble especially when you keep two jobs,” Richardson said.  “There is no time to get in trouble."

Echols says the program has been so successful businesses are even hiring on some of the teenagers after the program over.

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