Region

Union County Adopts Innovative "Christopher's Program" to Help Prevent Gang Violence

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has partnered with the New Jersey Superior Court to introduce Christopher's Program, an intensive effort to help prevent gang violence. The program was created and spearheaded by Freeholder Nancy Ward.

"Christopher's Program works from the perspective that youth violence related to gang membership is a public health issue," said Ward. "There is no simple cure, but one effective approach is to ensure that more young people have the support and insight they need to make positive, healthful choices about their lives."

Christopher's Program is designed to provide tools for helping young people avoid gangs, and to help prevent their further involvement in the judicial system. The methodology includes audio-visual and multimedia formats that promote key skills including listening, communication, introspection and goal setting.

Youths enrolled in Christopher's program attend two days per week, in six-week cycles. The cycles are scheduled at three locations in Union County, affording all youth the opportunity to participate. Participants are mainly referred from the Family Part of the New Jersey Superior Court.

The Union County Department of Human Services, which administers the program, has also reached out to local service agencies, police departments, school districts and faith based organizations for potential referrals. Christopher's Program is also available to youth in the Union County Juvenile Detention Center.

Christopher's Program includes educational and professional development sessions for community groups, public safety agencies, schools, and other stakeholders. The sessions focus on youth violence, gangs, and adolescent issues.

Christopher's Program has already gained recognition for its potential impact in Union County, as well as its potential for use throughout the region. The program is being nominated for the 2010 Community Change Project, a New Jersey Black Issues Leadership Convention initiative that highlights programs and activities promoting positive change.

Christopher's Program will be presented by Duane Dyson, MD FAAEM. Dr. Dyson is Chairman and co-founder of The Violence Prevention Institute, a network of organizations throughout New Jersey formed by emergency room physicians.

Some of the sessions will also be presented by Hashim Garrett, president and founder of the educational consulting firm Wisdom and Understanding, LLC. Mr. Garrett was himself a victim of gang violence and was partially paralyzed at age 15 in a street shooting incident.

Christopher's Program is named in honor of Christopher Booker, a young African American man who was brutally tortured by a gang of men and teenagers, dumped in a vacant field and left by his murderers to die alone.

"Having had the privilege of knowing Christopher, I know that if Christopher had lived, he would have wanted to reach out in positive ways to all young people who are under continuous pressure to join a gang," said Freeholder Ward. "It is left to all who knew Christopher to speak for him, and to speak for other victims of gang violence whose voices have been silenced."

For more information about Christopher's Program or to request a session, contact Bonnie Hermann, Union County Department of Human Services, 908-527-4808 or bherrmann@ucnj.org 

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