Community leaders say curbing violence starts with youth

South Bend, Ind. Residents are still reeling after shots were fired near a vigil for two shooting victims Thursday night.

Dozens gathered to remember the lives of 29-year-old Dominique Jackson and 20-year-old Jarina Bailey. Both were killed in separate shootings during a violent weekend in South Bend.

As the event was wrapping up, several gunshots went off nearby.

“Everybody need to get their life together, you young people,” said Jarina’s great aunt, Lorraine Bailey.

Bailey’s frustrations were felt by many of the other community members who came out. Some said they felt helpless and don’t know what to do to help curb the problem.

But, community leaders say the easiest way to help reduce violence in South Bend is to get involved with the city’s youth.

“Kids need role models, they need people to look up to that’s going to show them a better way and show them the positive path,” said Deborah Burrow, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Joseph County.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a partner in Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s Mentor South Bend initiative. He’s challenging residents to help double the number of mentors in the city.

Big Brothers Big Sisters helps make positive connections with kids by focusing on education, socio emotional competency and avoiding risky behaviors.

“We need more men especially to step up,” Burrow said. “Our waiting list is a lot more boys and they wait longer than our girls.”

Lifelong South Bend resident Michael Martin understands the importance of reaching out to youth, too.

He has 11 children of his own and says he hasn’t always made the best choices. But, despite making some wrong turns along the way, he’s now a business owner and proud father.

After the recent shooting deaths of Jackson and Bailey, Martin was inspired to create C.H.O.I.C.E.S., a mentoring group that will work with intercity kids.

“We've been like the third generation of children that are getting worse as it goes along,” he said. “And, if no one addresses the problem now, it will be six generations of kids and who knows where it will end up.”

C.H.O.I.C.E.S. is just getting started, but Martin says he already has a group of about 30 men involved. He’s even considering purchasing a building on the city’s west side to turn into a free youth center.

“The thing is now to attack the problem with younger kids and address the fact they have nothing to do that is structured in the city for our teens,” he said.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Joseph County and C.H.O.I.C.E.S. are both looking for volunteers. Those interested in becoming a big brother or big sister can get more information by calling 574-232-9958. Adults who want to become a part of C.H.O.I.C.E.S. can contact Martin at 574-514-2619.

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