BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A unique after school program is looking to turn kids living in high crime neighborhoods into advocates for preventing crime and violence.
"It really is training up the next generation on how to advocate and how to make their dreams come true in the neighborhoods they live in," said Gail Grover, assistant chief administrative officer for the Baton Rouge Mayor's Office.
The Youth Empowerment Solution, or YES, program helps groom kids to become part of the solution by teaching them leadership and advocacy skills. The program launched in 2015 with just two locations where kids would meet twice a week and were taught by trained teachers on a certified curriculum.
This fall, the program is growing to four locations with hopes of accommodating up to 100 kids. The program targets kids ages 11 to 13, what Grover describes as an impactful age.
"They're at crossroads of making decisions that are helpful and not hurtful to their own well-being. What to do with time that's spent outside of school. How to deal with blight in their community? Are there things that they can do?" said Grover.
The YES program is just one of six different strategies designed to address why crime happens. The strategies are funded through a gr ant from the Department of Justice and works alongside the more well-known BRAVE program. Where the BRAVE program addresses the occurrence of crime, the strategies address what drives crime by focusing on factors like blight, unemployment and youth engagement.
Like the BRAVE program, the strategies are active in six neighborhoods dubbed the BR Hope Zone. These neighborhoods include Istrouma, Midtown, Eden Park, Greenville Extension, Smiley Heights, and Melrose East. Taking up a little over five square miles, these neighborhoods have the city's highest rates of crime.
However, it was the people who live in the area that helped brainstorm why crime happens and what could be done to help it. The city took their ideas and turned them into action. That's how the YES program was born.
Grover said the residents believed that engaging kids was among the most important ways to prevent crime.
"Starting with our 11 and 13-year-olds who are finding their voice and now helping them to know how to put that voice in action so they can see the impact and they can continue to grow. It's a great opportunity," said Grover.
The YES program will begin in September. Eligible kids must be 11 to 13-years-old, enrolled in school and live in the BR Hope Zone. Kids are provided transportation to and from the program which meets twice a week for 80 minutes a session. The four meeting locations include Celerity Dalton, Friendship Capital High School, New Hope Outreach Ministries and S.A.V.E. BR.
For more information on how you can be a part of this program or lend your support, please call (225) 389.4847 or visit BR Hope Zone's website.