LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - There's been a question on the minds of many as school prepares to let out for the summer in the wake of a rise in violent crimes in Little Rock. How will parents and communities keep teenagers out of potential trouble?
The City of Little Rock, it's leaders, and its residents want to know how to help end the violence that has been plaguing our streets. The one consensus that has been reached so far is that the focus should be on our kids.
At a special city board meeting Sunday, city board members grilled Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner on his plans to curb crime in the city.
"Do you think this is a way we can police our way out of," asked city director, Ken Richardson. "I saw you were at the scene of a double shooting involving a couple of youngsters and you made that reference."
"Until we change the socio-economical situations that are occurring in these areas, we will continue to be on this treadmill to nowhere and frustrated," Buckner replied.
At the meeting, which focused on a recent wave of violent crime in the city, Buckner said there's one thing we can all help with when it comes to crime and that's concentrate on the teens during the summer.
"The bottom line is, you must have some structure and discipline in your home. That's what it's going to take," Buckner said.
For the better part of 20 years, City Director Doris Wright has been trying to make the West Central Community Center a reality, and finally it is.
"You come here, you play here; your games and everything," Wright explained. "We have 100 percent parental participation. So far this season, we have over 85 [baseball teams] registered.”
That district is one of the areas hit hardest by recent violence in the city. She said teens need somewhere to go, to focus their attention, to keep them off the streets. This community center, she argued, is that place.
"I have a good team here. We are just getting our legs under us here in this building, but my radio station manager, if I can get that young man full time. The sky is the limit as to what we can do,” she said proudly.
The center offers baseball, football, and dance teams, poetry slams, chess club, and a radio station.
But, in order to continue to provide this outlet for the community, they need donations and volunteers to keep it going. In exchange, Wright is willing to open up their facilities to other community groups that have the members, but need a space to help children.
Groups like Distinguished Young Men, a teen mentoring program without a home base.
"Someone can donate facilities for them to play basketball, different things. They'll love that," said Walter Crockburn, the group's leader. "Right now, a lot of the gyms are closed. The [YMCA's] are closing, so they have no place to go but to hang out on the corners."
Crockburn said if the teens he mentored had more opportunities to play basketball or learn during the summer, it would decrease the chances of them being on the streets. And being off the streets would potentially cut down on crime in Little Rock.
Distinguished Young Men needs mentors. Men who could help with bowling alley and theme park trips, but also to lend advice. The sort of things that give teens something to look forward to.
"One of the biggest things we like to do in the summer time is our Summer Jobs program. That employs people from 6 to 21," said Dana Dossett, director of the programs for the city. "That does the main thing that students like. They're able to make money, but more than that, they're able to earn something that's valuable."
She said their Summer Jobs Program has been such a hit, they had roughly 1,300 kids apply before the deadline. The program only offers 650 positions. Dossett is asking for the business community's help to hire those students.
"The cost for a business is about $1,750, or roughly $2,000 for the summer time," she said. "But what it allows is way more than that. You're giving a student a chance to learn how to get ahead."
- If you’d like to be a mentor to young men in the community, you can contact Distinguished Young Men at the Arkansas Stop The Violence Facebook page.
- If your business is willing to hire teens, please contact Little Rock City Programs at: https://www.littlerock.gov/city-administration/city-departments/community-programs/