By Sean Barron
Victoria T. Allen recently took 24 city youngsters on a field trip to a local farm festival, which included face painting and numerous other activities.
In addition to offering a fun day, the outing provided a set of positive experiences and, by extension, made it less likely those in the group will follow a negative path.
“If you give them opportunities to do something besides commit a crime, they will come,” Allen explained.
For those and other efforts toward reducing crime and building a more vibrant community, Allen was one of seven award winners during Monday’s 17th annual Peace Award Recognition event at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish Hall, 343 Via Mount Carmel Drive.
Hosting the gathering was the Mahoning Valley Task Force on Crime and Violence Prevention, which formed in June 1989. Help Hotline Crisis Center Inc. sponsored the banquet.
Madonna Chism Pinkard, director of community relations for 21 WFMJ-TV/WBCB-TV, was master of ceremonies.
Allen is president of the ICU Block Watch, which encompasses the 300 blocks of Avondale, Lucius, Boston and Philadelphia avenues as well as portions of Rush Boulevard and South Avenue on the South Side.
Allen noted the youngsters in her area partake of field trips and other activities at least twice monthly and that she’s seen cleaner neighborhoods and less crime. Nevertheless, she said, the overall quality of life still needs to improve.
The keynote speaker was Judge Robert A. Douglas Jr., who retired last year from Youngstown Municipal Court.
The majority of young offenders he’s seen are “good guys” who have made poor decisions, but wanted to be treated fairly and given opportunities to escape violence and make positive choices, Judge Douglas told the audience of crisis workers, law-enforcement personnel and others.
He also cited the work of David M. Kennedy, a New York City criminologist whose strategy for decreasing violence, especially gang-related crime, combines the efforts of law enforcement and social workers, along with the effects of crime on community members. Those offered the message then are asked to relay it to gang members and other offenders.
Along those lines, Boston’s Operation Ceasefire led to a 60 percent reduction in crime especially in that city’s poor neighborhoods, Judge Douglas noted, adding that such innovative approaches can work locally.
Nevertheless, simply throwing money at the problem is not enough, the judge continued.
“There has to be a proven commitment by the community,” he added.
Tackling the area’s crime problem is imperative, especially where youth are concerned, said Tina S. Milner, the task force’s chairwoman.
“If we don’t do something now to transition our Valley, we will have no young people for future generations,” she warned.
Offering additional remarks were William “Guy” Burney, director of the city’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence program, and Brenda G. Morgan of Help Hotline Crisis Center.