Wilmington Star-News: Here Now - Director says anti-youth-violence group is 'full-speed ahead'
Jana Jones Hall, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence, leads a meeting with Virgo Preparatory Academy students at the Wilmington school on Thursday, May 15, 2014.
Wilmington, NC - May 23, 2014 - Jana Jones Halls sat at a table at Virgo Preparatory Academy with three seventh graders. It was a rainy Thursday afternoon a few weeks from the end of the school year.
The kids were in "rare form," as she put it later, joking around and teasing one another over trail mix and juice as they discussed recent events at the school and plans for the summer.
Halls is executive director of the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence. Her Teen Council of seventh-graders will manage some upcoming initiatives of the Blue Ribbon Commission, or BRC.
The BRC has been making news on a number of fronts since Halls was hired last July.
"We've been full-speed ahead," she said. "Everything all of a sudden is coming to a head and it's go-time."
The BRC works intensively with young people and their families in the Youth Enrichment Zone, which stretches from Market Street north to Nixon Street, from Fourth Street east to 14th Street.
To the BRC, preventing youth violence means looking at the causes, from academic problems to family stresses to situations in the neighborhood.
The Teen Council has gotten permission from the city to operate the Hemenway Community Center on McRae Street as a teen center. They'll hold events on weeknights starting in June, giving people a safe place to go.
The kids at the table were talking excitedly about a farmers market they hope to operate in the zone this summer in partnership with Feast Down East.
On another front, the Youth Enrichment Zone Summer Initiative will offer an academic and cultural day program at Virgo from June 23 to July 24.
The program is designed by the national nonprofit Building Educated Leaders for Life to reverse summer learning loss.
While mornings will be spent on academics, afternoons will see the involvement of community groups like Kids Making It, DREAMS, Wilmington Health Access for Teens and the Ability Garden working with the rising seventh and eighth graders at Virgo.
The BRC also partners with Communities In Schools of Cape Fear to create a CIS position at Virgo to help kids with behavior issues and those who aren't performing at their grade level.
The Blue Ribbon Commission was founded in 2008 as part of United Way of the Lower Cape Fear. It is now an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Halls, 32, is from McLean, Va., the daughter of parents devoted to helping the needy and homeless. As a little girl, she spent time helping her father at a homeless shelter. "Adopted siblings" often stayed in their home.
She moved to Wilmington in the summer of 2003, after college, and later worked at the Friends School of Wilmington teaching language arts and social studies.
Virgo Middle School closed for a year before reopening as Virgo Preparatory Academy in fall 2012 with a commitment to serve as a community hub and to motivate its students to go to college.
Halls arrived to Virgo when it reopened, working on an AmeriCorps stipend as volunteer coordinator. She joined the BRC the next year, working with Daawud El-Amin, the BRC's Youth Enrichment Zone specialist, to help young people on the Northside avoid getting in trouble.
"I hit the ground running," Halls said.
For more information on the BRC and its programs, call 251-6150, ext. 103,or email firstname.lastname@example.org.