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Youths speak out: More youth programs, fewer guns
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Youths speak out: More youth programs, fewer guns


BLOOMINGTON — More programs and mentoring specifically for older teens and young adults and reduced access to guns are among solutions suggested by youth and young adults after recent shootings in Bloomington that have left five people dead and three wounded.

"Bloomington had never gotten to the point where it's gotten now," said Iyah Andrews, 16, of Bloomington.

"It's never been this bad, really," agreed Desmond Sterling, 17, of Bloomington.

"A lot of people are hurt by what's going on now," said Patrick Galloway, 26, also of Bloomington.

Following the shootings Monday on Riley Drive and on June 10 on nearby Orchard Road, The Pantagraph interviewed teens, young adults and their mentors this week to discuss why this is happening and what can be done to stop it.

Some of those interviewed in cooperation with YouthBuild McLean County and Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal, knew some of the shooting victims. YouthBuild is an alternative high school for at-risk youth who struggle in typical school settings. Boys & Girls Club has programs for at-risk, low-income children and youth.

"It's painful and shocking," said Dodie Dunson Sr., Boys & Girls Club director of family engagement at its Lawrence Irvin Neighborhood Center (LINC) and a longtime youth advocate. "All of the victims have been here at the center (LINC) at some point."

Another longtime youth advocate, Mike Donnelly, said, "The biggest concern for me is young people and access to guns."

A generation ago, victims may have been beaten; now they are shot and killed, Dunson said.

"Guns shouldn't be so available," said Daevion Givan, 16, of Bloomington. "You should take a class." He was among YouthBuild students interviewed at Heartland Community College where they are enrolled in a YouthBuild summer jobs program.

"You shouldn't just be able to walk into a store and get a gun," agreed YouthBuild student Jeremiah Hughes, 16, Bloomington.

Increased misuse of social media also has contributed to the recent violence. 

"It used to be private conversations," Dunson said. "Now they are beefing with each other on social media, people see it and there's more pressure to respond."

But social media should be part of the solution, YouthBuild students agreed. YouthBuild is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

"If someone puts up a concerning post like, 'It's been a rough day,' people (YouthBuild students and staff) reach out," said Michael Wallace, 16, of Carlock. "You can talk with mentors and people your own age. You don't feel alone and disengaged."

"It (social media) should be used ... to connect with people, not as a weapon," said Hughes.

"A lot of young people are on social media," said YouthBuild student Austin Orendorff, 17, of Bloomington, so agencies that provide youth services should be more active on social media, too.

While there are ample programs in Bloomington-Normal for children and younger teens, few programs are geared to low-income older teens and 20-somethings, teens and young adults said.

YouthBuild students suggested a place just for older teens and young adults to play sports, watch movies, play computer games or just relax. It should be open at night and during weekends when youth are looking for something to do.

"Somewhere you can chill or play basketball and not pay and leave without drama," said Andrews, suggesting more than one location so youth from different parts of town would have access.

"But it has to be structured" and mentors must be available, Sterling said.

"Teen minds need mentoring," Wallace said. "A lot of youth are misguided and think violence is the way to solve issues. We need to find ways to re-engage teens with positive role models and fellow teens."

"Young people need to be around adults and older youth they can trust," added YouthBuild Development Director Alicia Lenard.

Niquell Ranson, 23, of Bloomington, who mentors teens at Boys & Girls Club, suggested a community-wide festival where people could play sports and video games and enjoy different music and food together. "The community is separated too much," he said.

"We need to give young people avenues where it's OK to be who they are," Donnelly said. "A lot of guys find hip hop (music) to be a release. As a community, we need to embrace it."

Ranson would like a supervised studio where young people can play and record their music.

Andrew Held, ministry director for City Life Bloomington, which works with teens on relationship building and social skills at various locations, said, "Our biggest thing is to go where the teens are congregating. They may not go to churches or community centers. So we will be in the neighborhoods."

City Life is planning events this summer at Western Avenue Community Center and Friendship, O'Neil and Miller parks.

Dunson, who has mentored teens for 43 years and is organizing a meeting to quell the violence, said, "it's about building relationships with young people."

Galloway, who began coming to Boys & Girls Club when he was 14 and now works there, said, "A lot of kids around my age are lost like I was, trying to figure out life on your own. Sometimes, your mom is not there. Sometimes, your dad is not there. I grew up without my mom or my dad.

"So you may look up to older guys (older youth)," Galloway continued. "There is not enough structure in your life ... A lot of kids need attention ... so they do something bad."

But everyone agreed that any new programs will take time, money and collaboration among agencies.

"We need to come together as a community and make this happen," said YouthBuild Executive Director Tracey Polson.

Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech


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