V-GAP resilient, but is in need of funding

Dec. 19, 2013 @ 09:33 PM

The Vance Gang Awareness Partnership set its 2014 agenda Monday before a group of 40 community leaders, advising momentum is evident and funds will be needed to sustain it.

Kanika Turrentine, the chairwoman, met with the Vance County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council. About 40 area leaders of county and city government, the schools, businesses, churches and other stakeholders were present at Aycock Recreation Center.

Turrentine said grant funding and more support from businesses and local governments will be sought. Regardless, she said, efforts must be active on all fronts.

“Failure is not an option when dealing with gangs,” Turrentine said. “We can’t allow things to keep going on. We can’t allow our young people to keep dying while we are waiting on a grant. We are an active and moving committee.”

Highlighting the 2014 V-GAP year will be a “Champions for Children” conference on March 25. The conference kicks off an annual tradition of summit events demonstrating that an anti-gang campaign is just getting started and not going away in Vance County.

The March conference will feature a speaker and breakout sessions. The goal is to organize efforts to curtail criminal gangs through specific preventions, interventions and recovery programs.

“Is there a gang problem in Vance County? One gang is too many,” Turrentine said. “We need to make sure we are doing all we can for our children. They’re getting bullied, being approached by gang members.”

She provided statistics from the 2010 gang assessment project showing a high level of concern about criminal gangs. The numbers show about 60 percent of both students and teachers responding to questions affirmed there was an increasing gang problem in the schools.

An alarming 14 percent of responding students affirmed they were involved with some level of criminal gang activity.

An often highlighted statistic that Turrentine repeated on Tuesday stated an overwhelming 80 percent of youth involved with gangs would leave it behind if they saw clear alternatives for themselves.

Prevention, intervention and recovery efforts should take into account the problems of boredom and other feelings of vulnerability and neglect that many youth face, Turrentine said.

She said training and technical assistance is needed for parents, teachers and faith community leaders. Turrentine also said the paradigm needs to change on how individuals and community leaders respond to specific incidents.

A case in point, according to Turrentine, is the handling of gang graffiti and a threat last week at Northern Vance High School.

“Could that have been handled better?” she asked. “We need to be sure we are prepared for things that happen like that.”

Responses to Turrentine’s presentation were all positive, but indications of practical funding support were less than certain.

Allen Gill, the director of Vance County recreation, said that funding is always the most difficult challenge. Recreation is a key component in a strategy to provide positive alternatives, according to Turrentine’s presentation.

“Hopefully, they would be advocating for a little more funding to help us,” Gill said.

Henderson Mayor Pete O’Geary said any decision on including V-GAP and other funding matters suggested by anti-gang advocacy would have to be decided on by the full City Council.

“All of us will have to look at that,” O’Geary said. “I am willing to support them in any way I can.”

City department staff might be available with in-kind consultation support to help the quest for grants, O’Geary added. He indicated that a successful grant award requiring local matching funds would make a strong selling point to council members.

“This is certainly a good program,” O’Geary said. “We would be more than willing to look at that, to be helping with that.”

Ralphel Holloman, a V-GAP committee member who also leads efforts against dropout problems for Vance County Schools, said recognizing the gang problem is just a matter of being aware.

“I agree with the presentation 100 percent. We need to have a plan in place,” Holloman said. “We need every agency in the city to help.”

Rev. Frank Sossamon, a V-GAP committee member, said he hoped 2014 would be a turnaround year that leads to Vance County becoming known for achieving what now looks impossible.

“They’ll be coming here, saying, how did you do it? How did you do it?” he said. “I hope that 2014 really becomes known as the year that Vance County came together.”

Tyree Green, one of three members attending Thursday from the dozen-member V-GAP Youth Advisory Council, said he hoped the momentum against gangs would start to be felt by fellow students at school.

“You hear so much about the gang violence and the recruiting,” Green said. “I have never been approached, but I know other people who have been. The pressure is there to either go in or be taken out.”

Green said the pressure can take the form of a bullying incident, pushing or hitting mostly. Sometimes the confrontations get worse.

“It has to be reduced,” Green said. “We need more to be involved in positive ways, create a new trend.”

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.