The Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery Safe Summer Academy is underway with 120 participants ranging in ages from 14 to 40 at four locations around the city. The program’s goal is to provide alternate paths for success to at-risk youth and adults exposed to the criminal justice system.

The program gives the participants full-time summer employment, where they also have classroom workshops. Using vision boards and other teaching methods, program mentors help the participants develop an “entrepreneurial profile” and strategies to help them start and grow small businesses with very little capital outlay.

“This is about the community’s investment in the passions and aspirations of people often overlooked by educational efforts,” Mayor Ras Baraka said. “We want to position them to break the generational cycle that leads them to violence, drug use and crime by giving them insight into their innate strengths and abilities to create legal paths to success.”

“The unofficial motto of the program is ‘flipping the game and changing the mindsets,’” said Lakeesha Eure, the Director of the Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery. “We give them the tools to visualize their dreams, and an income and a little seed money to get them started.”

The Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery was created by Mayor Baraka one year ago, using five percent of the Public Safety budget for community based programs to address factors that lead to crime and violence, and help victims of violence recover from trauma.

The summer program participants work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and the target populations were people with a history of arrests or exposure to incarceration or violence, either as a victim or perpetrator.

“Ninety percent of the crime happens in 10 percent of the city’s geography,” said Director Eure. “We went into these areas with outreach workers to recruit for the program.”

In addition to the entrepreneurial skills, participants are taking a wide range of classes to enhance their financial, emotional and social skills, including stress management and coping, conflict resolution, developing healthy relationships, habits and nutrition, public speaking and civic engagements, and money and home management.

“We are taking a holistic approach for the individuals to benefit themselves and the community,” Director Eure said.

Program partners include the Newark Street Academy, The Newark Community Street Team, the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, The HUBB Community Center, the REFAL (Restructuring Economics for African Liberation) Center, The Shani Baraka Center and Rutgers-Newark.

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