Merlene Davis: 50 volunteers offer to help Lexington youth

Lexington is taking seriously the problems that have bubbled to the surface concerning our youth.

That was one of the thoughts I had as I left a news conference Wednesday at which Mayor Jim Gray and 1st District Councilman Chris Ford announced that 50 people have joined the Commission on Youth Development and Public Safety, a task force formed out of the concern expressed after the recent deaths of two young people in Lexington.

The commission is focused on three areas: safety, health, and crime prevention, led by Police Commander Lawrence Weathers; leisure, recreation, and quality of life, led by Evelyn Bologna of Parks and Recreation; and personal development and economic stimulus, led by Youth Services Director Stephanie Hong.

Some of the names are of tried-and-true trench warriors, and others are folks new on the scene. Gray called them "work horses and not show horses."

"This is the day that illustrates this community coming together to solve a problem and that is a big deal," Gray said. "What do you do when you try to solve problems? You bring people together and you crowd the table."

The first meeting of the task force will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, at the Fayette County Cooperative Extension Office, 1140 Red Mile Place. The commission will issue a preliminary report to the mayor and council this fall, and a final report in December, Gray said.

In the meantime, however, Gray highlighted programs that are already in place as well as three that may lead to new initiatives.

July Jamboree is a pilot program that will offer activities for youth in the sixth grade through age 18 Friday and Saturday evenings in July.

Aaron Mosley of Bluegrass Youth for Christ and the youth pastor for Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, said he helped start a similar program at St. John Baptist Church in 2003. That program ran for three years.

Youth living in the Winburn, Woodhill, Cardinal Valley and Tates Creek areas will be picked up in vans at designated locations and brought to Castlewood Park where activities will be conducted from 7 p.m.-midnight, Mosley said. Parents also can bring their children and pick them up.

"We have 150 volunteers and the number is still growing," he said.

Employment Solutions will provide the food, and the vans are being loaned by St. John and Mt. Calvary churches and the Urban Impact Youth Ministry of the Lexington Leadership Foundation.

Experienced basketball players will teach dribbling, shooting and passing drills and others will teach arts and crafts and life skills including gang awareness and avoidance.

"On certain days there will be barbers available to cut hair," Mosley said. "And there will be music classes and step classes. Everything will rotate throughout the month."

The program and other efforts have come about since an early June news conference held by Gray and Ford to announce the formation of the commission. Several churches came on board and the pilot program became a reality, he said.

Southland Christian Church, the Police Athletic League, and Parks and Recreation are directing the athletics aspect, with community volunteers shaping the rest.

Asked how many children are expected to participate, Mosley said, "Whatever number comes, we will accommodate them. We are trying to take our community back and we have to start with our children."

At the Wednesday news conference, Tom Blues, 2nd District councilman, said Lexington finds itself in need of solutions because of the existing social environment.

"The environment today is perfectly calibrated to create issues this task force (plans) to eradicate and to address," he said. "Our hope is that this commission will look frankly at the way society has stacked the deck against young people and bring forth some serious recommendations that change the environment. It is a daunting task. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

I agree. There is not a simple solution.

Still, I don't recall another time when so many aspects of the community have stepped up to help work through a problem. Folks at the news conference seemed to be crediting Ford as the engine that thought it could be done and then did it. Ford pointed to the large number of people who quickly volunteered their services.

Mosley may have said it best, though.

"There is no one head," he said of the sincere outreach to our children. "It is all one body. ... Anyone can be a part. Just leave your ego at the door."

There is still room for more input and participation in the July Jamboree. There's a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the William Wells Brown Community Center, 548 East Sixth St. Call Mosley at (859) 338-2837 if you would like to donate prizes or your time.

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