Crime mapping Indianapolis

CRIME MAPPING: Youth mentorship program making policy changes to address root causes of violence

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INDIANAPOLIS — An organization on Indy’s near southeast side is working with some of our most vulnerable youth to try to prevent violence before it starts.

VOICES is a program that works with youth and families who are at, or below, the poverty level who are disengaged from traditional systems of support. Under their Power and Promise program, participants learn how to become mentors for the next generation, along with learning how to advocate for themselves.

“They advocated for the requirements a couple years ago for the Mayor’s Youth Council,” said Kia Wright, founder of VOICES. “They used to have to be attached to a school. Our kids weren’t and so they really want to be a part of that and they changed that.”

The youth participating in the program also pushed for them to be able to get a work permit. Before this year, if a student was expelled, they would be not eligible to get a work permit in order for them to get a job.

“I remember I couldn’t get a job for like forever just because of the work permit,” said Ronnell Collins, a student intern for VOICES.

The youth in VOICES got to work on that, speaking with the Department of Education and Workforce Development to change the rules.

Now, under new Indiana law, businesses can register employees under age 18 directly on a new state online database instead of waiting on work permits from schools.

Collins says this change will help reduce violence by giving more teenagers something to do rather than scrolling social media and getting ideas on how to make money in a less-than-reputable way.

“Seeing all the stuff that goes on on social media, seeing all the music videos that show exactly how to do stuff, seeing everybody flash their money like you just sit and I feel like all of that plays a role,” said Collins.

Wright says combatting the violence in the city is not as simple as telling people to put down their guns.

“My best advice is talk to a kid, reach out to somebody in your family, a school and neighborhood, to something you know. Sometimes just listening to them and let them vent,” Wright said. “Providing, you know, that safe space for them, making sure that you tell them somebody caring about somebody rooting for you and our communities need to start healing.”

Wright says she hopes the Power and Promise program will help reach youth that adults can’t.

“The theory was they’re listening to their older uncles and brothers and cousins a lot quicker than they’re listening to us, and we’re trying to put some money in their pocket, which we know is a main motivator, or one of the main motivators.”

The Power and Promise program acts as paid training. There are four levels of the program that participants can go through from learning about relationship building and conflict resolution to civic engagement.

The first tier of the program pays participants $150. If they go through the fourth tier they could make $1000.

Along with Power and Promise, VOICES provices other programming, including art therapy integration, day treatment, tutoring, and after-school/in-class programming.

To learn more about the organization, visit their website.

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