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New response team mobilizing to help Roanoke communities affected by violence

New response team mobilizing to help Roanoke communities affected by violence

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Coordinator Lloyd Merchant speaks about Roanoke's RESET Team, a new initiative, before a team outreach walk May 26.

Lloyd Merchant paused to regroup with the volunteers who had been working alongside him to fan out across a Roanoke neighborhood.

The recent afternoon was sweltering, and the group had been out for an hour already. Merchant asked if they wanted to keep going. They didn’t hesitate.

“Let’s roll,” said Jermaine Johnson, one of the volunteers, nodding decisively. “Let’s do this.”

Three days earlier, gunshots had reverberated in this neighborhood, leaving two people injured in an altercation. Now, Roanoke’s RESET Team was swinging into action, arriving to knock on doors and connect with residents.

The team, a new initiative that started in March, is composed of civilians who mobilize to offer support and resources to communities upturned by violence.

“Every time something happens that is traumatic within our community when it comes to violence, we want to make sure that we’re there,” said Marvin Fields, a counselor and one of about 15 people who volunteer with the team.

“We’re here for support. We want to respond, to show people that we’re here, and to give them information to help them through this trauma, because we know it affects the lives of our neighborhoods.”

Ultimately, he added, the goal is to be part of creating a safer community.

“And how we’re going to do that is by coming out and coming together,” he said.

The grant-funded RESET — which stands for Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma — initiative is new to Roanoke but has been employed elsewhere, including in Richmond and Hampton.

The design of the programs can vary. Roanoke’s is housed in the police department but is led by a civilian coordinator, Merchant, and made up of volunteers whose backgrounds range from therapists to youth outreach workers to educators to residents who want to be part of change.

Luis Rodriguez, a mail carrier, got connected with the program through the city’s twice-a-year citizens academy.

Rodriguez said he knows what it means to grow up in an area exposed to violence, and he wanted to help others confronting the same challenges.

“I’m just trying to help people,” he said. “Trying to help these young kids not to do the same type of things that I saw when I was growing up. Trying to get that gun violence down. Trying to help people have safe neighborhoods.”

The RESET Team doesn’t investigate cases or seek information from neighbors. Instead, it works to provide information, sharing flyers with contact numbers for nonprofits and city agencies that can aid with community needs.

Merchant said he wants the team to become a steady presence in the city — a visible sign that the community cares and is banding together to respond to concerns.

“The more frequently we go out, the more impact we’re going to have,” he said.

Members of the community “like to see us out, as much as possible, as soon as possible,” he said. “We try to get out there and let them know that we’re here, we understand, we see what’s going on and we just want to be a support for them.”

GoMart manager Michelle Jarels said she was surprised initially when she saw the team members arrive at her store in their bright orange vests.

But as they explained who they were, she said it felt nice to have people checking in on them. The employees had been rattled by the recent shooting in the store’s parking lot, and Jarels worried for them.

“They told us if we ever needed to talk or something, they were available,” she said.

The RESET team “makes me feel like people are trying to do something,” she added. “I hope it’s something that’s going to be able to make a change.”


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