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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Anti Violence Summit in EPA

Over the past months a group of us have been workign on a summit for preventing violence in our community. The ultimate goal was to call pastors and leaders of faith to take responsibility for the community on a 'street' level. The summit was a resounding success! We had over 75 people attend - including three city council members, the chief of police and others. We received a good amount of press for the event, here are a couple of the articles:

Police tap religious groups in campaign to stem violence
By Rebekah Gordon, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

EAST PALO ALTO, CA Fourteen homicides here this year have sent the Police Department into overdrive to stem the violence, and on Saturday they looked to some 75 local religious leaders for help.
"We've got a high level of violence and we need a different outlook," said Lt. Tom Alipio, a patrol commander who helped organize the day's summit of leaders. "We've never done anything like this before."

Called "Promoting Life, Thwarting Crime, Preventing Violence," the summit was sponsored by the city, its police department, the East Palo Alto Chaplaincy and the Peninsula Community Foundation to engage the faith-based community in the violence discussion through workshops and speakers. Spanish translators were on hand as well.

The Rev. John Liotti, lead pastor at Antioch Urban Fellowship Church and director of Bayshore Christian Ministries' program for youth, said violence is a "huge issue" church leaders must help address.

"This community is old-school in terms of the pastors really have a lot of weight," he said. "We have the ability to reach kids on a whole different kind of level."

Reaching them, Liotti said, is by providing resources to establish or maintain programs that meet community needs. It also means being a presence on the streets, even going door-to-door, he said.

"Primarily, we need things that can engage our young people on an everyday basis," said the Rev. Paul Bains, senior chaplain and founder of the East Palo Alto Chaplaincy.

The Boys & Girls Club and YMCA under construction are a start, Bains said.

Gail Ortega, a community volunteer and director of multicultural student affairs at Menlo College in Menlo Park, likened this effort to the civil rights movement, which was largely faith-based, he said.

"The faith-based community is the only community that can witness unconditional love," he said. "We've got to open the doors. We've got to be out there.

"This is the hard work of transformation," he said.

In addressing the gang problem, Chief Ron Davis said churches can work to fill the need for a family that newly recruited gang members often seek.

"It's the community at-large working together to solve problems," he said.

He said the goals are aggressive.

"We're going to strive for a year without homicide in this community," he said.

Constance Burgess, the summit facilitator and an East Palo Alto native, said that in devising solutions church leaders must look at ease of accessibility, training levels, how to provide effective counseling and types of services offered. Services might range from media education to remedial programs for youth who violate the 11 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew ordinance.

"This is the time that we answer the call to action," she said.

The next summit will be held Feb. 25 at the East Palo Alto City Hall.


Pastors tackle crime in East P.A.
By HongDao Nguyen
Mercury News

Pastor Larry Scurry, the chaplain at Hillcrest Juvenile Hall in San Mateo, said he nearly fell over when he found out there are 50 churches in East Palo Alto's 2 1/2 square miles.

In 16 years, he said, only one African-American church has joined him to minister the troubled kids at San Mateo County's juvenile hall and only two East Palo Alto pastors have offered their help. That's despite the fact that many of the African-American youth he works with at Hillcrest are from East Palo Alto, he said.

``We basically have got to step up,'' Scurry told dozens of leaders from East Palo Alto's faith community on Saturday during a violence prevention summit in a city where the homicide rate has doubled since last year.

East Palo Alto police joined clergy from more than a dozen churches to hear from a panel of law enforcement, community members and survivors of the streets to explore the root of the crime wave and find ways to stop it.

Rallying against crime isn't new in East Palo Alto. In 2004, a shooting spurred a peace march. In 2003, a spate of violence led to a prayer vigil -- yet homicides in 2005 have so far doubled to 14. But police and faith leaders said Saturday's effort was different.

``In past events, we reached out to one or two churches,'' said Lt. Tom Alipio, commander of East Palo Alto's police investigations division. Saturday's event wasn't just rhetoric but a meeting of leaders who will turn words into action, he said.

``It's a group that will not let it fall on its face.''

In recent months, gang violence has spiked throughout San Mateo County, said Loren Buddress, the county's chief probation officer. Right now, 13 juveniles are in Hillcrest facing charges for murder or conspiracy to commit murder, Buddress said, and each is linked to gang violence. However, the whole state is dealing with increased gang activity, he said.

Other panelists also shared hard realities.

Doug Fort, who founded For Youth By Youth, an organization to reach out to at-risk youths in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, said he knew about half of the 14 homicide victims this year in East Palo Alto. He also experienced violence as a youth.

At 13, Fort was shot in the face twice when a gunman aimed for someone else and accidentally hit Fort instead. He hustled drugs as a kid.

Faith leaders are facing a generation whose parents weren't around because they were in jail or on drugs, said Fort, 28. In turn, the kids gravitate toward street life and violence.

``There is no therapy for us,'' Fort said.

Fort said another obstacle is how young people view churches: As stodgy, traditional and judgmental.

But panelists also encouraged the group.

After a recent spate of violence among some Tongan youths in San Bruno and San Mateo, Tongan faith leaders teamed with police agencies to fight the crime, said Alejandro Vilchez, who works for the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center.

Out of that relationship, Tongan youths were offered rope-climbing courses to build character, and Tongan clergy joined police on weekend ride-alongs.

``We really have to be intentional about this,'' Vilchez said.

East Palo Alto's summit suggested inviting youth to hang out at houses of worship on Saturdays and getting more churches to participate in youth mentoring programs.

Summit organizers also asked for more people to volunteer with the city's police chaplain program and youth groups, or help plan the next summit in February.

They hope a more formal plan of action will come out of that gathering.

``There's enough people to do the work,'' said Katie Fantin, the executive director of New Creation Home Ministries in East Palo Alto. ``But it's about empowering them to do it.''


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