Supplied photo courtesy of Scott Czechlewski
District Attorney Ben David speaks during the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, Crime Hurts Kids…and Business, on Wednesday, Jan. 22 at Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station.
Wilmington’s recent rise in gang activity is not going to be solved overnight and neither is one of the main roots of the problem — a lack of opportunities for low-income youth.
This was the focus of the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s fundraiser-style breakfast Jan. 22 at Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station, the latest in a series of forums addressing the city’s violent crime spike.
Ben David, district attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties, spoke to an audience of business and nonprofit leaders, elected officials and public employees, outlining the challenges for violent crime prevention.
“Ultimately, what we are fighting when we talk about violent crime, we are fighting poverty,” David said, adding that the business community’s support is needed to ensure the viability of after-school programs for low-income youth.
Jana Jones Halls, executive director of the United Way’s Blue Ribbon Commission, listed several programs and opportunities in need of funding from wealthy donors, focusing on the pilot program Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL).
“Sometimes you can feel helpless because there’s so much to do,” Hall said. “But we do have something that we can do right now to help in a little way with one community.”
Hall said the BELL program would target underperforming students by offering five weeks of summer instruction, divided into academic and cultural enrichment components. Activities include field trips and classes ranging from ceramics to nutrition, with the N.C. Cooperative Extension offering a cooking class that uses vegetables grown in the local community garden.
She said 11 cities have implemented the BELL program, including Charlotte and Winston-Salem.
The program will launch this summer at D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, in the heart of the youth enrichment zone, which spans a 14-block radius of low-income neighborhoods in north Wilmington.
“The initiative is to bring existing nonprofit initiatives into the youth enrichment zone, with the BRC (Blue Ribbon Commission) to serve as the collaborative network to bring them into one area,” Halls explained after the forum. “We are focusing this year on the middle-school-age kids, because they are the ones who are most at risk, at 14 and 15 years old.”
The school’s principal, Eric Irizarry, said a summer learning gap disproportionately affects low-income students, who experience significant declines in educational achievement during summers spent outside of school.
The program ended with a three-song concert from D.C. Virgo’s seventh-grade band. Cameron Bolish, D.C. Virgo arts education facilitator, introduced the band as an example of a public-private partnership that was making a difference.
“The instruments that each of our children are holding were a donation by Bob Moulten and National Pawn,” Bolish said. “Not one of our kids would have had a chance to really be a part of our program if he didn’t step up and provide the instruments.”