Community approach to gang prevention

The "Gangland" cover story ["Putting in Work, May 6] unfortunately almost completely overlooked Asheville's actual response to the threat of gang violence. Juxtaposing the outlook of only one youth-service provider (and Asheville GO is a great one) with the law-enforcement response has the potential to completely skew the public's perception, if the inference is that these two nearly polar views represent all of Asheville.

Please allow me to introduce the Buncombe County Gang Violence Prevention Project (GVPP), a coalition of public, private and nonprofit agencies who've been actively engaging the gang threat in our community at various levels for years now – diligently strategizing and implementing numerous programs to stem the gang threat.

The abridged story: More than three years ago, Senior Assistant District Attorney Kate Dreher assembled representatives from several agencies to pursue funding from the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for prevention, intervention and suppression efforts targeting gang-identified and high-risk youth. Membership has grown to include such agencies as: Asheville Police Department, The Mediation Center, Horse Sense of the Carolinas, YWCA, Caring for Children/Communities in Schools, Catalyst POETIX, Partners Unlimited, Up Front Sports, Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, Asheville GO, Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice, River of Life International Church, Asheville High School's ASPIRE Program.

Megan Leschak of The Mediation Center has assumed the spearhead position to lead the GVPP into its latest incarnation, now funded by the Governor's Crime Commission. Leschak has been pivotal to sustaining the GVPP coalition, researching the gang phenomenon and effective responses to it, and securing funding for affiliated agencies to begin working with the "High Point Model" for gang-violence prevention. This highly visible approach endeavors to bring everyone to the table to determine the fate of young gang members on a case-by-case basis. For example, APD compiles evidence and brings the youth to the table alongside parents, court counselors and youth-service providers. The choice is presented to the youth to either accept legal repercussions for their criminal activity or to make a change and involve themselves in the youth service programs. Gang violence that used to plague High Point, N.C., has been nearly completely marginalized using this approach, and the model has been exported to many other communities with a substantial, positive impact almost every time.

Mayor Terry Bellamy has also assembled numerous youth-service providers and faith-based organizations to join a Gang Task Force. Many agencies recently collaborated on the Youth & Parent Resource Expo held at MAHEC, which went so far as to provide transportation for anyone, especially those in high-risk areas.

Asheville's approach to the gang threat involves a close relationship between state and local government, court officials and law enforcement, alongside afterschool programs, various youth-service providers, psychotherapy agencies and more. Asheville is a remarkable example of community uniting to protect and provide opportunities for young people and promote safety for everyone throughout the region.

We can use as much public and private support as we can get. The media plays a pivotal role. Please join us!

— Graham Hackett, director
Catalyst POETIX
Asheville

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