03/20/07 — Faith-based groups set date for multi-county anti-gang gathering

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Faith-based groups set date for multi-county anti-gang gathering

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 20, 2007 1:50 PM

School and law enforcement officials tell Smart Choices for Youth Director Daryl Woodard the youth gang problem is getting worse.

Teens are facing increasing peer pressure to join gangs, they say.

"Everybody wants to belong to something, and gangs offer a sense of belonging. That's just human nature. The school drop-out rate is increasing nationwide, and what they do is hang out on the streets," Woodard said.

Woodard's staff along with members of three churches and several faith-based organizations in Wayne and Wilson counties have been meeting to plan events to help young adults steer clear of gangs and to keep parents informed about their dangers. They gathered Saturday to confirm plans for a April 28 conference in Wilson and a gospel concert the following day in Goldsboro -- the Choose God Not Gangs weekend. The locations will be announced during the group's next meeting, which will be March 31 at 10 a.m. in the Wayne County Public Library.

One of the speakers at the conference will be Lt. Mark Bridgeman, president of the Gang Task Force of North Carolina. Woodard said Bridgeman "has his hand on the pulse of what is really happening with gangs in North Carolina."

A panel discussion will follow with law enforcement officials from Wayne and Wilson counties.

The two-county partnership was formed in December with money Woodard's office received from a $750,000 grant over three years for the development of a Communities Empowering Youth program.

The purpose of the federal grant program is to help churches and other faith-based organizations become part of the solution to the youth gang problem.

Woodard said the group can add more partners as the grant money continues coming in, but added that becoming a part of the efforts to curb gangs requires only committing some time.

"If somebody wants to get involved, they don't have to become a partner," he said. "We'll work with anybody in the community who sees the need to try and make a difference in the lives of children, particularly in keeping them out of gangs and reducing youth violence."

He said law enforcement and the schools are doing their parts, but he believes the churches could do more. He said the partners want to help the churches and the faith-based organizations enhance their youth programs or to start new ones.

"Before Social Services, the church was the place people turned to," he said. "We want to enable the faith-based organizations, not just the churches, to do things like write grants, to educate the youth, to get involved and deal with the gang problem."

Smart Choices is the lead agency, he said, but Communities Empowering Youth is a joint effort.

Partners involved in the project so far include Gospel Perspectives and Eastern Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Goldsboro and, in Wilson, Jackson Chapel First Missionary Baptist Church, Farmington Heights Church and YouthSurge Inc.

For information, to inquire about joining Communities Empowering Youth or to sign up a choir to sing in the concert, call 735-0008.