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Columbus group creating program to help at-risk youth

Through a new city-funded program called the “Parent Enrichment Program," the Columbus Urban League is working with the juvenile justice system.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Efforts continue to address what some are calling a crisis — youth violence.

It's a growing problem not just here in central Ohio, but across the country.

Neighborhoods all over are feeling the impact - stolen cars, physical assaults and even murders.

Some believe the solution, involves a different approach to give the youth their best shot at success. 

“Punitive measures don't work, because - what is gained as a community and a culture from just locking people up,” said Javier Sanchez, the CEO of R.E.A.C.H Communications, Inc.  

Javier Sanchez is on a mission to restore and sustain hope among youth in cities across the world including Columbus. 

“I've been involved with Columbus city youth, pretty much my whole life because I was one,” explained Sanchez. 

Over the years, through research and interactions, Sanchez has been able to put his finger on the pulse of youth violence.

Teens and young kids – turning into both victims and perpetrators. 

“I think what we are seeing is disillusionment and hopelessness. If I have no hope then I have no reason to make an effort to do anything else,” said Sanchez. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it a public health problem.

According to the federal agency, homicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24 and the leading cause of death for Non-Hispanic Black or African American youth.

Every 24 hours about 15 youths are victims of homicide, often killed by someone not much older than them. 

“I'm heartbroken every day in regard to my children,” said Tania Hudson, a concerned Columbus mother.  

Tania Hudson knows the pain of losing a child, both of her sons were killed just seven years apart.

“We will go to a funeral and cry together - yell stop the violence. Any yet they don't know how,” explained Hudson.  

Javier Sanchez says the issue of violence is multi-layered with many young people dealing with trauma and a feeling that they have nothing to look forward to.

Often leading them to live in the moment, totally disregarding the feelings of others and the consequences that follow. 

“Our challenge is getting the adults that are in these young people's lives to recognize the value of these young people and invest in them.” Said Sanchez. 

That's exactly what the Columbus Urban League is doing. 

“We know if we can stabilize our families, we can stabilize our youth,” explained Stephanie Hightower, the president and CEO at The Columbus Urban League 

Through a new city-funded program called the “Parent Enrichment Program," the Columbus Urban League is working with the juvenile justice system – to help navigate at-risk youth, away from the courtroom. 

“I appreciate that we have judges who don't just want to lock kids up and throw the key away. That they want to give them that second chance and opportunity,” Hightower said.

The new eight-week program takes a different approach than many others, it requires parents to be involved in order for the teen to stay enrolled.

Creating a safe environment for families to deal with underlying issues such as trauma head-on, with resources and professionals aimed at setting them up for success. 

"Hopefully you will probably see them being the next Ohio State football player, they will be the next architect, or they could be the next mayor,” Hightower said.

The new program with the Urban League is set to begin next month. The goal initially is to help close to 100 juveniles. 

Meanwhile, Sanchez is working on programming efforts with the Columbus Department of Neighborhoods and my brother's keeper.

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