May 23, 2014
With several recent high profile arrests, gangs have become an issue our area can't ignore. A recent study found that there are around 180 gang members in our area. And a critical component of gangs is recruitment, which means it’s more important than ever to make sure our teenagers have better choices. A teen without a role model, a place to go after school or in the summer are easy targets for gangs that want new members.
But there are some community members that are working hard to make sure kids have better options than getting recruited. Places like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Virginia work to give kids a safe and positive place to go:
Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Virginia Executive Director James Pierce says the clubs provide a feeling of belonging and community for kids during the crucial after-school hours.
"There’s all kinds of risks, you know, between 3 o'clock and 8 o'clock. After school time is the time kids typically get into things they shouldn't if they are unsupervised. So we try to be open during those times to prevent any kind of negative influences."
What do gangs have to offer? And how do we compete?
Wes Bellamy volunteers with at risk youth and founded the program HYPE. He says it is critical that positive role models in the community continue to come forward.
"Often times, and data shows the same thing, we see when kids don’t have positive role models they tend to turn to gangs or they tend to look up to people who aren’t individuals who we would want to steer our youth."
And if they already have something in their lives that gives them a feeling of family and belonging then resisting the lure of a gang becomes easier.
"Not only with a gang but just groups of people who aren’t doing positive things often times people feel a sense of family or they feel wanted or they see guidance. One thing I’ve noticed with a lot of youth in our area is that no matter who they are they would just like to have some kind of guidance. They are seeking discipline. So if we don’t give it to them, the individuals who are doing the positive things, then they may steer down the wrong direction."
Gangs are an ongoing issue in areas across the country...which is why programs like the Boys and Girls Club and HYPE are crucial to keeping our community safe. The experts say for a gang to thrive here, they have to be able to recruit new members. So the more we do as a community to make sure kids have these role models and places to go, the less we'll have to worry about gangs in Charlottesville.