Putting the guns down: Investing in the next generation

Target 3

DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — Violence, particularly gun violence, is on the rise. This is a clear trend across central Illinois.

We took some time to focus in on one specific group it’s affecting: Kids.

Whether they’ve seen it firsthand, watched story after story on TV, or are seeing negative — sometimes dangerous — behaviors in their own peers, kids have been watching this trend unfold just like the rest of us.

It takes a toll.

“The data tells us that, you know, it’s a concern; that there is an upswing in the violence that is occurring in our communities,” shared Danville High School Principal Tracy Cherry.

“…And we can’t just be passive participants,”

Cherry has been the Danville principal for two years, but she’s lived in town off-and-on since 1990. She said over time, she’s seen a rise in violence.

“I still feel safe here but there is a difference from when I was here, compared to now,” Cherry explained.

“Yes, I have noticed an uptick but I really think it’s because we took so much away from the youth,” added David Groves, Executive Director of the Laura Lee Fellowship House.

Before Groves was the executive director of a nonprofit, he was a kid in Danville.

“I cannot think of a moment where my mom did not have me busy,” he reminisced. “When I moved back here I noticed there was a decrease in programming.”

The Laura Lee Fellowship House was created to be a safe haven for all kids, but with the city’s underserved, multicultural families in mind.

“I like to say, ‘Our kids just come from life.’ What a lot of people don’t understand is when you think about our youth, you think about ‘all students are the same,’ when actually every student has their own story,” Groves shared.

He and Principal Cherry believe that providing programs and outlets for kids early on can prevent violence down the road, and in the meantime, keep them out of danger.

While we were in Danville, Groves, Cherry, and multiple community members voiced concern over the closure of the municipal pool in Garfield Park for the summer. The consensus was that it was a hangout spot that families counted on.

Violence is not a Danville-specific problem. It’s affecting towns and cities across the region. The reason we went to Danville is there are some unique solutions going on there.

Watch Part 2 of the story below:

“It’s important for all of us to be as proactive as we can now, rather than reactive in the future,” Cherry emphasized.

The high school principal was talking about preventing violence. Some of Danville’s community leaders said this starts from the ground up.

Kids are exposed to the rise in gun violence just as adults are. Cherry and Groves said giving kids somewhere to be, and someone to talk to, can make all the difference in their individual futures and in curbing violence down the road.

“A lot of it is just taking the time to build that relationship and to make it personal, and to find out how we can help them outside of school,” Cherry added.

School is a built-in getaway for students: a place to feel safe, be fed, and have someone to talk to.

“We have a psychologist that comes down from Chicago at least twice a month,” the Danville principal shared. “…Because it was very difficult to schedule an appointment with a psychologist in our community.”

Danville High School also works closely with Danville Area Community College. Cherry says one program gives students the opportunity to work on an associate degree while still in high school.

The problem is, once the school year ends, that safety net goes away.

“We do have concerns about our students in the summertime because idle time is the devil’s workshop,” Cherry said.

That’s where the Laura Lee Fellowship house comes in. For the first time in years, the non-profit offered a place for kids to spend their summer days.

“We have a lot of students who don’t even know what trauma is and how to identify certain triggers to anxiety, and PTSD and depression,” Groves, the executive director said.

He said they bring in counselors to help students work through this. Plus, kids have access to young adults who’ve been in similar shoes.

“We’re building every day,” shared Destiny Dye.

She is the Queens’ Advisor, overseeing teenage girls in the summer program.

“I’m seeing new girls. They’re going home and telling their friends and their parents how much they enjoy coming, and that’s what I like to hear. You know, it’s all about them, their experience,” Dye added.

Adviser Destiny Dye is spending her summer working with 6-12 grade students. She said she makes time for “girl talk”, allowing them to open up about anything.

The summer program is called “Black Wall Street”, teaching kids about Black history that is often left out of textbooks. Plus, the kids are busy learning entrepreneurial skills.

“I feel like it’s a very huge deal. I didn’t have anything like this growing up,” said John Ward, the Kings’ Advisor for the Black Wall Street program.

“I just wanted to make sure the generations after me had something good to do, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

The Laura Lee Fellowship House is open to all students. We’re told they’re happy to bring in more for the summer program.

It doesn’t cost families anything. The non-profit is funded by donations and, in part, by the school district.

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