From the court to the street, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps is on a mission.
On the heels of a recent string of youth violence across South Bend, Phelps formally launched an initiative Wednesday afternoon to end the slew of senseless killings.
Dozens of community leaders packed into a conference room in the basement of the Morris Inn to show support for Phelps’ program simply called, "Stop Youth Violence."
The game plan is a two-pronged effort. First, Phelps is calling on police and the prosecutor’s office to treat criminals more aggressively. Part two focuses on education, in which the coach is challenging community members to consider taking-up school mentoring programs.
Phelps, a South Bend resident of 40 years, says reading about the April killing of Kenneth Horton, 16, on South Bend’s northwest side was the last negative headline he could take.
"This kid was going in the right direction in life and gets shot in a drive-by and dies four to five days later and I said, ‘that's it.’ So now it's time for me to stop coaching basketball and start coaching the streets of South Bend,” Phelps said.
Among the attendees, SBPD Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley who'd mentored Horton for the last two years of his life.
"He had some potential and he had a great personality and he could have made much more out of his life and not just have it end in the streets like it did,” Hurley said.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg was also on hand, reminding the crowd that the program's success will rely on widespread community support partnered with a zest for change.
"Hopefully this is going to be the biggest push, the biggest number of mentors and the biggest interaction with students in the South Bend Community Schools,” Chairwoman Gina Shropshire of the SBCSC Mentor Advisory Board said.
The massive undertaking is something every common council member supports as well.
"We need to at least attempt to show kids that there are other ways to life. We need to tell them they can do great things within the structure of their school and community. We need them to know people want to help out, so I think it's a good start to try and get things going here,” South Bend Common Council President Derek Dieter said.
"I’ve always had instincts to coach and I think we've got a lot of great players in this community. So it's putting this team together to stop youth violence, but letting those that are on the other side of the street know it's game over,” Phelps concluded.
Currently South Bend Community Schools say they have 200 citizen mentors. Phelps’ plan proposes adding another 500 by the fall semester.
Shropshire says prospective mentors must submit to a background check before taking a one-hour training course. The district then works to place new mentors with an at-risk child at a school close to their work or home. If you'd like to consider joining the program, just click on the Big Red Bar.
And for more information about Phelps’ coalition to end youth violence, you can attend a public town hall meeting next Thursday at 6:30 p.m. inside the Kroc Center. The program, expected to last an hour, will outline the more than 30 agencies involved in the fight and explain how you too can get involved.