Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says we need people working and paying taxes, not jailed in a cell, which costs tens of thousands of dollars per incarcerated person. His remarks prefaced the public update of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s mission: to build a community where the youth are safe, healthy, educated, and successful.
The Blue Ribbon Commission is busy adding new programs this summer to reduce youth violence and increase graduation rates in the Youth Enrichment Zone, also known as the YEZ. One such program, spurred from a partnership with Building Education Leaders for Life (BELL), is the YEZ Summer Initiative. Executive Director Jana Jones Halls says the five-week program is designed to reduce summer learning loss:
"We provided academic structure. They focused on math and literacy. The second part of the summer program was exposure and enrichment. And we did that by inviting our nonprofit partners to come in and do outreach classes in different areas of art, woodworking, physical fitness, nutrition, gardening. We also took the kids on field trips."
The YEZ Teen Center was also set up this summer to provide a safe place for teenagers to hang out. The creation of the new center was led by the YEZ Teen Council, who gained leadership skills throughout the process. They went before the Wilmington City Council to propose their idea and request the use of the Hemenway Community Center, which was granted. And they saw the project from inception to finish, even choosing the decorations for the grand opening of the Teen Center.
In addition, soccer teams will begin forming this spring to promote health. And also, the YEZ scholarship program has expanded to offer scholarships to four-year colleges. A condition of the scholarship is that the recipient must return to share college experience and advice with the area’s teens.