The city has received a $500,000 grant for a gun violence prevention program aimed at middle school students who are likely to pick up a weapon in the future, Mayor Levar Stoney announced Tuesday.
Forty middle schoolers from Martin Luther King Jr. and River City, the former Elkhardt-Thompson, will be selected for the program and given a stipend to participate. These students haven’t engaged in violent behavior, but show key indicators that make it likely, according to the city officials who announced the grant Tuesday. The amount of the stipend has not been announced.
The targeted children are “over-age” meaning they are 15 or 16 years old whereas most middle school students are 14 or younger, and have either witnessed gun violence firsthand or have a sibling who has committed gun violence.
“They tend to have a lot of these characteristics that the CDC identifies as risk factors for gun violence engagement,” said Eva Colen, a senior policy advisor for Stoney’s administration in the Office of Children and Families. “But also because they tend not to be interested in other middle school programing. When you’re 15, 16, you might not really want to go to a dance class with some 12- and 13-year-olds. We’re trying to find age appropriate, relative and responsive programming.”
Colen said they hope to start the program in October offering support both in school and afterward to these students who need it the most. While they haven’t selected the participants yet, Colen said, the program partners likely already know who they are because they receive services already.
Program activities will be designed by the city Department of Parks and Recreational Facilities, with the help of nonprofits Communities in Schools, ChildSavers and Challenge Discovery Projects, and the city’s Department of Justice Services.
“Together with our partners, we’re going to wrap our arms around these children and shepherd them through some of the most formative times in their life,” Stoney said in a statement Tuesday. “We’re going to provide supports both in school and during those integral hours immediately after school. We’re going to give them the support they need to steer clear of gun violence.”
The kids will be split into groups of 8 to 10, each with two adult supervisors. One adult will be a mentor hired by the city parks department from a similar background as the children; the other adult will be a behavioral or mental health expert provided by ChildSavers or Challenge Discovery Projects, the city said.
The $500,000 Virginia Gun Violence Intervention Program grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services will last through June 2023. Colen said she hopes they will secure funding beyond that to continue, and expand the program to more children. She estimates there are thousands in Richmond who meet the risk factors for gun violence.
“We want to catch them before the worst happens,” she said.