Parents must be the first line of defense in keeping youths out of gangs, a national official with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America said Wednesday.
“The parents are the ones who really have to stand up there and take charge of what's going on in their families,” said Joe Mollner, the organization's senior director of delinquency prevention.
But the 27-year law enforcement veteran said those families also need help from the community.
“This isn't something that the Boys & Girls Clubs can do alone. It's not something that the Urban League can do alone or the Police Department can do alone. But when you start to come together is when you can make the difference, and that's what this is all about,” he said.
Mollner's comments came as the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands opened two days of workshops aimed at giving parents tools to combat gang influences.
“One of the things that triggered (the workshops) was the rash of shootings in recent weeks, and parents who were scared to death with the way some of those things came down,” said Fred Schott, president and CEO of the local Boys & Girls Clubs.
“Over the years, our staff has had to attend funerals of victims of youth violence. We've had kids that we had for a while ,and somehow they drifted away and they ended up in gangs and were victims of gang violence,” he said.
Rather than blame parents, he said, it's better to provide tools for coping and strategies to steer teens away, or reclaim them, from gangs.
The workshops are aimed at helping not only parents, but also educators, behavioral health professionals, law enforcement professionals, community leaders and others steer children away from gang involvement.
“What we're looking at is not a Boys & Girls Club problem, it's not a police problem, it's not a courts problem, it's a community problem,” said Mollner, a retired police commander from St. Paul, Minn.
“If you are going to have any long-lasting effect on this problem and work on it, you have to have the involvement of those agencies and community groups, coming together to work on it,” he said.
Keeping youths in school also is an important facet of preventing gang-related behaviors, Mollner said.
Regina Tullos-Williams, director of strategic initiatives for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, said it is important for community partners to work together.
“If we all are on the same page in terms of what our belief is for gang intervention and prevention, then we start together,” she said. “There's no catching up, there's no stops and starts because we have miscommunication ... We're moving on a parallel track for the kid and the family.”
For parents who can't attend the workshops, Schott said, Boys & Girls Clubs offers parent support groups to help with strategies for at-risk youth.
“It's based on the AA and Al-Anon model,” Schott said. “These are parents whose kids are involved and they want to save their kids lives, and they're supporting each other.”.
For information on the support groups, call 342-1600.