Community leaders gather to discuss youth violence in Columbus County

Community leaders, from law enforcement to schools and churches, gathered for a public forum to talk about youth violence and what can be done to speak about change on Thursday evening.

COLUMBUS COUNTY, North Carolina (WWAY) – Community leaders, from law enforcement to schools and churches, have come together for a public forum to talk about youth violence and what can be done about it. talk about the change on Thursday evening.

The public forum was hosted by the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office. It included a panel of speakers including law enforcement officers, school system officials, judges, attorneys, religious leaders and representatives from the district attorney’s office. They were there to answer questions from the public and engage in an open discussion about what is happening in the community and how they can work for a better future.

Many suggested involving law enforcement in more youth activities. Tabor City Police Chief Donald Dowless shared examples of how his officers are involved with children on an ongoing basis, such as going to play basketball with them in parks and hosting a community barbecue. Columbus County Youth Court Director Tony Shipman said the DARE program was a great way to engage with youth when he was with Highway Patrol.

Lawyer Boyd Worley suggested strongly promoting athletics in schools, saying he’s noticed schools seem to have more trouble when their sports teams have slack years. Worley also added that sports were his motivation to do good and go to school while he was growing up, saying he wouldn’t have been very interested in the idea of ​​school without them.

Randolph Keaton spoke about his non-profit organization Men and Women United for Youth and Families which focuses on promoting economic and personal development in rural communities. It works to serve adults as well as youth, with programs focused on summer camp GED preparation courses.

People came up with lots of great ideas, but many were concerned about the transportation needed to get to some of the programs. Columbus is one of the largest counties in the state, which means not all the resources are nearby.

“We may need to balance resources so that resources that cross one side of the county can be balanced in the rest of the county,” said Colene Kelly, councilor for Chadbourn.

A representative from the Sheriff’s Office spoke of the cadet program which welcomes children between the ages of 10 and 18 to perform “professional community service-oriented, leadership-oriented, administrative and clerical functions, in conjunction with basic law enforcement knowledge. Going back to the question of transportation, the first sergeant in charge of the program says that he takes several children for the program, but he cannot reach them all on his own. He encouraged other community leaders and trusted adults to take the initiative and offer to enroll children in programs like the Cadet Program.

Another need was shared by Columbus County Schools Superintendent Dr. Deanna Meadows. She says COVID-19 has placed restrictions on visitors entering schools, but now that the restrictions are mostly lifted, they would like to have volunteers in schools to mentor students.

Although everyone supported the idea of ​​involving children in positive extracurricular activities, some agreed that it all starts at home and suggested that parenting programs could also be helpful.

“We all need to come together and realize that if we’re going to make a change in our community, it’s going to take all of us working together, not pointing fingers or blaming, but we need to start at home, we’ve been able to reach parents,” said Pastor Timothy Lance.

Audience members also shared their concerns about drugs in the community. A parent who also works in the justice system says she sees a lot of crime being driven by addiction, so she would like to see more resources in the county for people trying to get help.

Two other people spoke up and said they would like mental health issues to be addressed as well as how to keep guns off the streets and out of the hands of children.

Although the turnout wasn’t what Sheriff Jody Greene had hoped for, he was pleased with the discussion and hopes to see even more people involved in the next one.

“Please be at the next meeting. We’ve done the easy part, we’ve talked about it, now it’s time for us to do something and we’re going to need the help of the community to get these boots on the pitch which are needed,” Greene said.

The date of the next meeting has not yet been set.

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