Local task force hears about positive programs

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2:14 p.m.

Stakeholders in the fight against crime — especially juvenile crime — made brief presentations recently on the positive things going on in the community at a meeting hosted by the Black on Black Crime Task Force.

Held late last month at the Kirby Smith Center on E. University Avenue, the meeting featured a diverse group of speakers. Task force member, the Rev. Karl V. Smith, pastor at Greater Bethel AME Church, presided over the meeting, which was attended by close to 75 residents.

He said the meeting was important because it focused on things that can help Gainesville become a better place to live. “We always talk about the bad news, but today, we are going to focus on the good news in our community,” said Smith.

Gainesville Police Department Chief Tony Jones discussed juvenile crime, which he said has decreased by more than 40 percent in Gainesville since 2002. “When you compare 2002 to 2012, there were 1,100 fewer offenses last year than there were in 2002,” Jones said.

Jill Wells, chief probation officer for the 8th Circuit for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, said a pilot project called the Alachua Community Resource Center, which requires probation officers to meet with youthful offenders and their families within 72 hours of a juvenile being arrested, is working well since it was launched in February.

Gregory Pelham, case manager for the Alachua County Teen Court program, spoke about the court, which serves youthful offenders between the ages of 10-17. Teen Court was started in Alachua County in 1994 and has been operated since 1998 by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

Pelham said offenders in the program are referred by the State Attorney’s Office and stand trial in a regular courtroom with other teens serving as defense lawyers, jurors and prosecutors. He said adult volunteers from the community serve as judges.

Deborah Harden and Jancie Vinson, probation officers with the Florida Department of Corrections, talked about how probation officers are now being trained to help offenders succeed when they re-enter society after being incarcerated.

John Alexander, executive director of the Reichert House Youth Academy, and Julian McCoy, an administrator with Bold Overt Leaders of Distinction, or B.O.L.D., introduced members from their respective programs who talked about how the programs have helped them.

The Reichert House serves boys and teens in elementary, middle and high school, and B.O.L.D. serves young men ages 18 to 24 who need help getting on the right track in life.

Sally Wazny of the city of Gainesville Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs spoke about the programs offered at recreation centers throughout Gainesville that teach children about character.

Kenneth Johnson, president and founder of No Limit Outreach Foundation, talked about how his program, which has academic, athletic and social components, has helped young people since it was founded in 2007.

Hershel Lyons, deputy superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, talked about the success of students in Alachua County, including Eastside High School senior Kima Tabong and Gainesville High School senior Tyler Parker, who were recently named National Achievement finalists, “which means they were among the highest scoring African-American students in the nation on the PSAT,” Lyons said.

He said Parker also was named a National Merit finalist, an academic competition for recognition and scholarships.

Lyons also said Howard Bishop Middle School has been awarded a grant to prepare students for high-paying jobs in the field of information technology.

“The program will start next year and it is really exciting with MindTree (a global IT and product engineering company) and other companies coming in,” Lyons said. “This will be a great avenue for our students to move right into the workplace.”

The task force usually meetings the first Wednesday of each month at Kirby Smith.

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