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Group hopes to prevent youth problems

Suffolk’s youth need an intervention, Wilfred Dillard believes.

Violence, delinquency and school failure are just three of the obstacles that teens and young adults face in Suffolk, and Dillard, the executive director of Faith Temple Ministries and the PREVENT Youth Outreach Program, hopes to help save them from “the ways of the world.”

“This is the time, now, that we can begin to be mighty … that we can change the mindset of our children,” he said recently. “I’m tired of seeing … folks walking around dead, waiting for death to show up.”

Willard and PREVENT leader Calvin G. Prince have spearheaded a couple of recent meetings that has brought together leaders from various Suffolk organizations — especially African-American ones — to discuss ways to join forces to make an impact on Suffolk’s youth.

As a result of one of those early meetings, about 18 people from PREVENT, city administration, the NAACP and other organizations met Saturday for the first in a series of training and strategic development sessions sponsored by Suffolk Tomorrow.

“We have embarked on one of the most progressive efforts that will cause a shift in the balance of power, disband some of the City’s traditional practices and change socio-cultural dynamics that heretofore may not have been inclusive and/or productive,” facilitator Bob Stephens told participants Saturday in an email following up on the event.

Stephens and other members of Suffolk Tomorrow are working with PREVENT Ministries and the others attending the series of meetings to help create a common vision, develop strategies that will result in positive actions — not just meetings — and build an organizational structure that could support a major new effort for the youth of Suffolk, Stephens and others involved in the effort have said.

PREVENT works with youth in Suffolk from 8 to 21 years of age, offering Christian-based mentoring and other programs to residents of some of the city’s roughest communities.

“We need a viable plan to satisfy the needs of young people,” Prince said during a recent interview. “We need to get parents, children and educators to speak the same language. We can let PREVENT be a bridge between them.”

The stakes are high, participants agreed at the first of Suffolk Tomorrow’s strategic development sessions, where they recalled the recent shooting death in Norfolk of a Lakeland High School student as an example of the terrible consequences of a youth culture that has gone astray.

“This is about preventing another death,” Stephens said. “This is about our youth.”

He acknowledged the challenges that the group will face in meeting its goals, noting especially the importance of developing relationships with city officials and those with the power to influence financial support from other for-profit and nonprofit entities in the city.

But he encouraged participants to be confident in their dreams for a change among Suffolk’s youth.

“Leaders must steadfastly believe they can change the world,” he said, adding that they also choose to be associated with successful causes.

“I choose to be successful,” he said.