As school draws to a close and long, hot summer days arrive, the city of St. Paul is launching a new program to keep young people out of trouble and cut down on youth violence.
The St. Paul Youth Intervention Initiative, announced Thursday by city officials, police and community workers, is an $800,000 program that deploys community ambassadors — most of whom have ties with local youths — throughout the city to work with at-risk kids and teens and connect them with community services.
“We knew that this summer, things had to be different across the city of St. Paul,” Mayor Chris Coleman said at a news conference Thursday.
Coleman stressed that a comprehensive “360-degree approach” involving the entire community is needed to make an impact with young people. Officials hope the initiative connects at least 200 juveniles to services offered by local organizations such as Neighborhood House, St. Paul Youth Services, 180 Degrees and the YWCA St. Paul.
Nearly 30 ambassadors, some only slightly older than those they’ll work with, will work nights and weekends to help young people access services that can include helping with life skills, work readiness, managing anger and avoiding gang involvement, said Billy Collins, executive director of the YWCA.
The three-year initiative is an expansion of a pilot program launched last summer in downtown St. Paul. Ambassadors focused on trouble spots, especially transit hubs where teenagers congregate.
The city recorded 735 serious crime incidents involving a juvenile suspect or arrest last year, down about half a percentage point from 2012, according to annual crime statistics.
Sidiq Abdullah, 22, who lives in the Frogtown neighborhood, said he saw some of the ambassadors in action last year. Now, he’s one of them.
“It was awesome,” Abdullah said of the work he witnessed. “And I like doing stuff that involves helping out the community. … So I just jumped on the opportunity to do it.”
In addition to deploying ambassadors, the city is also expanding hours at seven recreational centers and adding summer employment opportunities for at least 45 young people, and maybe more, Coleman said.
“We have so many young people that have choices that they can make, and we can help them make those choices,” St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith said. “And we can help them defer from a life of crime by just showing them we care.”
About $225,000 of the project’s cost will come from the city, with another $100,000 coming from the police through a state grant. Much of the remaining cost is being funded by philanthropic organizations.