Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
As part of the panel discussion on youth behavioral health issues for the fourth installment of the Community Conversation about Gang Violence, New Hanover County licensed clinical therapy supervisor Donna Lynn Pleasants addresses the large crowd of community members gathered at the New Hanover County Library on Tuesday, Jan. 13.
The behavioral health of school-aged children in Southeastern North Carolina was the focus of the fourth meeting of the Continuing the Community Conversation about Gang Violence held Monday, Jan. 13 in the first floor of the New Hanover County Library.
The discussion featured a panel of leaders from organizations that provide services to children and their families like New Hanover County Schools lead social worker and counselor Lisa Burriss, NHC School Resource Officer Commander Lieutenant Novella Frieslander, NHC Community Justice Services program coordinator Teresa Huffman, NHC licensed clinical therapy supervisor Donna Pleasants and Communities in Schools Cape Fear program director Marrio Jeter.
Jeter, whose organization oversees the implementation of dropout prevention services and resources within 44 schools in New Hanover and Pender counties, said merely judging a student’s academic worth by his or her standardized test scores may overlook a child’s other qualities.
“Sometimes we go to great lengths to make sure we stratify our students,” Jeter said. “We need to restore hope in these kids so they think, ‘Hey, I may not be the best test taker in the room but I am still a contributing part of my community, I do have some gifts that I can contribute.’”
In commenting on what she sees on an everyday basis as a school resource officer, Frieslander said one of the best things parents can do to keep their children from becoming involved in gangs is to be a parent.
“Don’t be their friend, be their parent. Be their friend when they get older,” Frieslander said. “Be nosy — read their texts, read their emails, search their book bags and look in their rooms.”
Another short-term fix Jeter said parents could use is to reach out for help to organizations like Communities in Schools and the others represented on the panel if problems begin to arise.
“There is that belief that what happens in my house stays in my house, but what happens when what is going on in your house is too much for you,” he said. “There are all these resources around you but pride won’t let you find help. Get over that guilt and shame that your child needs help because all of us need help in some kind of way.”
While the entire Cape Fear region may be resource rich in the variety of agencies available to help children and families, county community justice services program coordinator Teresa Huffman said there is a disconnect between each of the programs themselves.
“We need to take the time to find out what each one of our organizations has to offer,” Huffman said.
After a few members of the audience asked the panel questions, Wilmington City Manager Sterling Cheatham said the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County are working on a policy that would hopefully address the gang violence issues in the region. Cheatham said the plan would be finalized after the last discussion in the series, which will take place Feb. 25.