NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker introduced the city’s first-ever Office of Violence Prevention coordinator on Friday as leaders continue pushing forward with efforts to curb violent crime.
Reuel Parks said he is ready to get to work at a time when his work is needed. His goal is to reduce community violence through a public health and social services approach focusing on prevention, intervention, and aftercare support.
“I always want to leave someone better than when I found them, so we need to pour back into our community,” Parks said.
Parks previously worked as a clinical therapist, parole officer and in juvenile detention. He says his experience and passion will help him lead numerous city programs that target people at risk of being affected by gun violence like the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program.
“Addressing crime and violent behavior is multi-pronged,” said Leonard Jahad, Executive Director of the CT Violence Intervention Program. “Again, we need law enforcement, local, state and federal programs like ours. We need access to resources, we need mental health and trauma curriculum and resources so if we hit all of these needs it will reduce the risk.”
Friday’s announcement comes as one group is already working to change the lives of children to stop the violence. Youth Connect is a school-based intervention program that targets “at-risk” students and puts them on a path to a good life.
The program is divided into various categories: poor school behavior, attendance, gang affiliation, and court involvement. Students can be referred by police, their schools, or even their parents.
“Before, I wasn’t really too worried about my grades and stuff, and like my free time, I don’t really care what I was doing,” said Devin Gardner, a 10th grader. “Now, we got to get on top of our stuff.”
Organizers say it all starts with a question: what can be done to help you get back on track?
Some answers include employment help, mentor support, tutoring, gang intervention,
and mental health treatment.
“Let young people know there is support, there is a network of people that care, and actually want to see them safe, alive, and out of jail,” said Ronald Huggins, the Youth Services Bureau manager for Youth Connect. “There’s a small number of people engaged in a large amount of the activity going on, so if we can get to that nucleus and people who have the influence, we could potentially change that behavior overall.”
Parks says his role will continue the work already being done in terms of prevention. He says he will serve as a way to Connecticut and further those social programs.