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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- In the final part of our Gangs in the Valley series, we look at how neighbors in our community are working to stop the gang problem from impacting the next generation.
Last month in Staunton, there was a special one-day celebration promoting after-school programming, but a smaller-scale program happens every Wednesday at Farrier Court Apartments called "Wonderful Wednesdays." It was started by the Central Shenandoah Valley Office on Youth.
Glenn Martin, the gang prevention coordinator, outlined what Wonderful Wednesdays does.
"We provide homework assistance. We do crafts. We do recreation programs. We have a snack ready for them. We're here to greet the bus when they get off," said Martin.
It started in August of last year. Early on, about ten kids took part, but that grew to 25 by the holidays, and now 40 to 45 kids on Wednesdays.
"The main premise is to develop positive relationships. We do gang prevention and substance-abuse prevention. One of best ways to do that is to build very positive relationships among the kids," said Martin. "Here at the Staunton site we have about 40 volunteers, primarily from the Blue Ridge Church of Christ which has also taken over this project as their ministry. So we're now handing it over to them and supporting their work."
There are other sites. "Marvelous Mondays" happens twice a month at two sites in Waynesboro, and twice a month at the Augusta Farms Apartments in Augusta County.
"We tend to take more of a bonding approach, and that is to go in before a crisis and develop relationships with the kids and their families," said Martin.
The Office on Youth Programs are part of the solution, but it's not alone.
"Big Brothers Big Sisters is putting mentors with kids to let them see that there's a better way to life, you don't want to live on the streets and the Boys and Girls Club is there everyday providing a positive place for kids to go in the most dangerous part of the day, which is right when mom and dad aren't there and they're getting off the school buses or they would be going home to an empty house," said Marsha Garst, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
There's also the education provided to youth by the CHARGE Gang Task Force in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, but what about parents?
"Now I never propose spying, but I will tell you that kids put more on their Facebook, you will learn more about who your children's friends are and what they're doing by looking at their Facebook pages and their social media and the other thing is just talking to them. Who are their friends? Are they bringing their friends home? If they're not bringing their friends to your house, you need to find out who their friends are," said Garst.
"I think quite often when kids join gangs they're looking for a family type of love that they may not be getting at home. And so as a parent, the first thing is to love and understand your children," said Martin.
One key this is to understand that gangs are here, and it takes a community effort to fight them.
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