A New Beginning? Mentorship Program Targets Southside’s At-Risk Youths
How do you solve a problem like gang violence? The Belize Police Department has tried truces, interventions, aggressive patrolling and arrests; the courts, and societal condemnation, but little has managed to stick. With the majority of the one thousand plus murders in Belize in the last decade happening on Southside, time is ticking to fix the problem. The Police are greeting 2017 on Southside with a new mentorship program dedicated to keep the next generation of youths from replicating the failures of their predecessors. Aaron Humes reports from the Radisson Hotel.
It has been more than a year since the three-headed hydra of commanders Chester Williams, Edward Broaster and Dezerie Phillips assumed joint control of Eastern Division, with Williams placed in the cauldron of Southside Belize City. The problems are myriad, and while the indefatigable street cop turned legal eagle has been hard at work, gang and crime culture has been institutionalized in successive generations. At a launch this afternoon Williams says the key to breaking the cycle lies with the generation that filled the Cahal Pech Room of the Radisson today.
ACP Chester Williams, Regional Commander, Eastern Division South
“While we do interventions and mediations with the older group that is already caught up in the gang violence, we decided that we would want to do a Police Youth Mentorship Club that we can bring in the children of those who are involved in gang violence so that we can hopefully work with them to curb the trend; hopefully, the cycle can be broken by what we are trying to do here today.”
So while today was about the Christmas celebration including entertainment from the likes of Ozzie the Clown, Director of the Youth Apprenticeship Program and youth mentor Diane Finnegan said the hard work starts in January.
Diane Finnegan, Director, Youth Apprenticeship Program
“Each day, this initiative will help to drive school success, by connecting these young people to caring adults who can serve as mentors. I hope that as mentors, you understand that your role and responsibility in these young people’s lives is critical, because you have signed up to be their motivators, problem-solvers and advocates. Your purpose is to form supportive relationships; identify and celebrate these youths’ strengths. Allow me to say that as you journey with these youths you will discover how eager they are to listen; eager to learn; and willing to try new things.”
The initiative has support from the boss, Commissioner Allen Whylie.
Allen Whylie, Commissioner of Police
“It’s an uncharted area in terms of the Belize Police Department, but there is a need for us to try to break the cycle of violence amongst young people; and obviously this initiative is aimed at capturing a younger population that may be on the fringes, and so it’s an initiative that I definitely support, because it can make a huge change in terms of going forward within Belize.”
Rotary president Barry Nolan and the Radisson’s general manager, Jim Scott represented the business community.
Barry Nolan, President, Rotary Club of Belize
“If you look around the room at each other; if you’ve ever wondered, “Does anybody really care about us? Do they really care?” Well, look around the room and know that yes, we do care about you. We care about each and every one of you, and that includes the men and women in this room who are in uniform, who perform their duties and their responsibilities to the community to make us safe, to try and protect us; and their jobs are dangerous and they risk their lives doing it. So yes, they care, and we care.”
Jim Scott, General Manager, Radisson Hotel
“You can measure an individual’s intellect by the diversity of friends and the diversity of activities they engage in. So while you guys are out having fun with your mentors and you’re doing all of these activities over the next twenty-six weeks and Saturdays starting next year, you guys look across the table and you look at the table next to you and the table next to you; you might not know it yet, but you might be looking at your best friend. You might be looking at your best friend; so look around the room right now, and you give that best friend an opportunity.”
2017, it is hoped, will truly be a new beginning. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.