Newport News hosting community meeting focused on reducing youth and gang violence

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Newport News is holding a meeting to get input on ways to reduce youth and gang violence.

It’s the second meeting of the summer and leaders are encouraging everyone to come out and share their ideas.

“We’re not going to be able to address this issue overnight. Change takes time but I want everyone to know their voice is heard. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have an idea but no one is going to listen,” said MaRhonda Echols, the program manager for the city’s Youth and Gang Violence Prevention office.

Echols has held the position for four and a half years.

She says the city created the office after seeing a number of young people getting involved in negative behavior.

“We realized as a city, you can’t ignore the problem. You really need to be intentional about addressing the issue,” she said.

MORE: NN police chief hosting two events set for next week

Their initiative, “Building Better Futures” hopes to accomplish the issue by providing young people opportunities they may not know about.

“I know that in doing this work, there are a lot of young people who want to do something different but they haven’t been given the opportunity,” Echols said.

The programs they offer include the STEP program, which provides employment opportunities, pop up shops to provide school clothes, Polish Topics, which is for young ladies to learn life lessons and do manicures, and the TURNT Program, which offers young adults life lessons while in the music studio.

While the office has these available for teens, Echols says they’re also working to help families.

“If you do something with them but send them back to the same environment, it’s not going to be as productive. If we can provide services and resources to them and their families, we have a better opportunity to collectively change the community,” she said.

The meeting will be held at the Denbigh Community Center to come up with strategic ideas for a three to five year plan.

It starts at 5:30 p.m.

Echols encourages residents, businesses, and churches to all come out and help.

“The biggest message I want to get out is the city can not do it all. Yes, this is funded by the city. Yes, it’s an active initiatve but we are just one entity,” she said.

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