Saturday’s open forum held at the Genesis Worship Center on 49th Street was geared towards giving Gulfport and St. Petersburg youth alternatives to violence and crime.
“The intent is to show the community, parents and kids that there are things to do other than run the streets,” said Jeri Reed, president of the 49th Street South Business Association (So49).
Reed held the event in direct response to the recent shooting deaths of eighth young men in the Gulfport and St. Petersburg communities. The forum included a panel that featured Gulfport Police Chief Rob Vincent; Gulfport Councilman Michael Fridovich; former Gulfport Mayor Michael Yakes; Major Philip Beahn of the St. Petersburg Police Department; and Gulfport Community Resource Officer Zack Mills, who answered questions as well as put forth suggestions on how to keep youth active in a positive way.
“We have the St. Petersburg PAL, Police Explorers from St. Pete, and the city of Gulfport is showcasing what they have,” Reed said, though she expressed slight frustration in the low turn out in terms of families. That, she said, was was the big issue.
But there was no shortage of organizations present to reach out to families and youth with programs that can affect lives in a positive way.
“It starts with the families,” Fridovich said during the panel discussion.
Presentations from outreach groups such as the Police Athletic League informed attendees about various programs to assist parents with such things as getting children to school and helping with schoolwork and more.
Chief Vincent expressed his frustrations with the juvenile justice system before offering a proactive response: The Gulfport Police Department has hired a volunteer coordinator and will be implementing an official Gulfport Police Department Crime Watch soon.
Gulfport Vice Mayor Yolanda Roman added that the city of Gulfport also offers a range of programs to help children and families, and encouraged residents to look at a binder showcasing them. The binder can be seen at Gulfport City Hall, 2401 53rd St. S., or the slides can be emailed upon request by calling 727-893-1000.
“The binder has over 50 slides of programs for kids,” Roman said. “There’s a lot of them.”
Reed said she hopes to build off this inaugural event and plans to apply for grant money for things such as parenting classes and to provide support for individuals who deal with peer pressure and bullying.
“We want to show the kids that they are not alone,” Reed added.