Event Saturday to raise awareness of violence, community issues

Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:57 p.m.

Gainesville Police Officer Jacques LaFrance sat down with his boss Chief Tony Jones last year and asked how he could make more of a difference in the community.

That conversation sparked the “Road to Zero” block party, an event to raise awareness about violence, drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases that will take place Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Center, 1028 NE 14 St.

There will be performances from local dance groups, choirs, free food and free STD and HIV testing. Also, sponsors of the event are giving away a free iPad Mini and iPod Touch.

The goal, LaFrance said, is to eliminate an increase in statistics for those issues.

“It’s geared toward teens — we want the teens to be educated on these issues and parents too,” he said. “Parents might not know how to approach kids about these topics, and the thing is everybody needs to know about this, and you might find out the hard way about the consequences (of STDs).”

LaFrance said he thinks getting out into the community and spreading the awareness is the best way to head off the issues before they have to be dealt with in hospital beds or with handcuffs.

“We are constantly asking our officers to identify issues in the community” GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said. “Not only has Officer LaFrance done that, he is taking his off-duty time to plan and host a major event to raise awareness for serious issues.”

The idea for the event came from LaFrance’s college days, when he was in a fraternity at Florida State University. Ideally, he said he would like to have had more time to plan the event (he’s been working on it since Thanksgiving), but once he reached out to members of the community and made some good contacts, the people at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida let his event coincide with their celebration.

He stresses, however, that he has had help in planning the event, including from local sponsors such as Target, Chick-fil-A, Minority AIDS Program and the Unity Family Community Center Inc.

“You can tell he’s passionate about this,” Tobias said. “He wants to make Gainesville a better place.”

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