Tackling teen violence – Focus on research, advocacy

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A federally-funded local pilot project to curb teen violence by teaming community groups to work with kids is being expanded into a new violence-fighting center at Winston-Salem State University that will focus on research, advocacy and training – and serve as a national model.

Thanks to a $1.8 million, five-year grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem – the largest ever made by the foundation’s Poor and Needy Division to a single institution – the new Center for Community Safety will become home to the Strategic Approaches to Community Safety Initiative.

Winston-Salem is one of five U.S. cities that have piloted that crime-fighting initiative, which is based on collaboration among community-based groups working with young people in a series of research-based projects.

The Winston-Salem initiative, which is run by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has cut juvenile violence in targeted neighborhoods in its first year.

Arrests of young people for violent crimes, for example, have fallen nearly 40 percent, and the use of firearms by young people is down more than 60 percent, according to U.S. Attorney Walter C. Holton Jr.

That initiative has teamed police, community advocates and clergy to work directly with serious juvenile offenders.

Now, in collaboration with a growing number of local groups – including the Winston-Salem Police Department, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Public Schools, CenterPoint regional mental health authority and religious congregations – the new center at WSSU will build on the youth-violence program with new programs in areas such as domestic violence and violence against older people.

The center will conduct research into the causes of violence, identify possible solutions, and work with community groups to address the problems.

Building on the existing juvenile-violence initiative, the new center aims to develop a job-training and job-access program for youthful offenders.

It also will work with community groups to help young people leaving prison finish their schooling, find productive jobs and get the family support they need.

The Center for the Study of Social Issues at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro will help evaluate the work of the new center at WSSU, which will be directed by Sylvia Oberle, local project coordinator for the federal initiative. 

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