Hope for Johnstown: curbing youth violence

Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa. - A grassroots group, Hope 4 Johnstown, met in Johnstown Tuesday night to search for solutions on how to stop the city's violence among its youth.

The group includes city, community and school leaders, along with parents like Jermaine Taylor. 

"I want to stop the violence," Taylor said. "I want to stop it in the beginning stage, before it becomes more than what it is."

The group is looking for grant funding and planning fundraisers for one possible solution: the Cure Violence Health Model. The model is based out of Chicago and uses community outreach workers to prevent violence.

Johnstown would need about $8,000 for an initial assessment, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the program up-and-running. Until the group can find that money, they're starting smaller: brainstorming ways to engage the community through churches, parents and schools.

"I think the first thing is identifying that there's an issue and that we all link together to try to solve it," said Tony Penna Jr., the head football coach at Greater Johnstown High School.

Another challenge is not only getting families involved, but reaching out to young kids to let them know there are adults who they can trust.

"Letting them know we're on their side. We know where they're coming from," Taylor said.

Group members discussed using school pep rallies, opening community gyms, movie nights and cookouts to draw kids in.

"Something that draws their interest, that they're willing to invest their time in and not be enticed by this kind of street violence," said Alan Cashaw, a co-founder of Hope 4 Johnstown. "If it means we have to build community centers where they feel safe, play ball, play tennis, whatever. We want them to have that to do."

Hope 4 Johnstown wants community members to listen to their children and be involved in their lives, take action and inspire hope.

"If no one is there to listen, how are we going to bring about a change," Taylor said.

If you would like to learn more about Hope 4 Johnstown, contact the NAACP Johnstown branch or the Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies.

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