Elected officials, leaders from the religious community and concerned citizens gather Thursday morning to discuss a plan to stop violence that affects youth in Abbeville.
Group meets in Abbeville to discuss plan to help stop violence among youth
Everyone in the room Thursday morning wants the same thing in the end.
They want Abbeville to be safe, especially for the city’s children.
That is why Stephen Menard invited leaders from different facets of the community to be in the same room, with that hope that it would be the start of a plan that can stop violence, some of which has affected the city’s youth.
Menard, organizer of the Justice for Unsolved Murders project, invited elected officials from the city, parish and state level as well as pastors and concerned citizens to join in the conversation about issues regarding violence as it relates to youth. The group met at New Life Church in Abbeville.
“Our goal here is a solution,” Menard said. “This is where the blacktop meets the tires.”
Some of the ideas discussed on Thursday included more community involvement in schools. Vermilion Parish School Board Vice President Kibbie Pillette said community-based schools have worked to improve areas in other parts of the country.
“This program involves counselors who will work closely with children and parents,” Pillette said Thursday. “If the counselor sees that a kid is having a problem, the parent is then brought to school to get involved.
“This has turned around schools.”
Pillette said he previously brought a proposal to the school board to implement the community-based program at Eaton Park Elementary and Herod Elementary. He said he would revisit that proposal.
Abbeville Chief of Police Bill Spearman shared plans to create a boxing club that will help instill discipline and responsibility. Spearman said the program is called “Knock Drugs out of Abbeville.”
“It’s a vision I had when I ran for police chief,” Spearman said. “This can be a positive place where kids can come to learn a sport and shake hands after, instead of fighting on the street.”
Spearman said he is working with local boxing trainers and is looking to implement the program early next year.
Vermilion Parish Police Juror Ronald Darby, who represents part of Abbeville, said there is a need for more men to be mentors in the community.
“We need to work with these kids,” Darby said. “We need to sit down and talk with them, and find out what they need, find out why they are so angry.”
Pastor Lane Payne of New Life Church said there is a group, the Royal Rangers, that can provide some of that stability that is being sought for youth.
“Royal Rangers is Boy Scouts on Christian Steroids,” Payne said. “It’s taking boys in and mentoring them.”
Payne suggested in that schools can implement teaching the students to be responsible for their younger peers.
“You tell second graders that they are responsible for the first graders and so on,” Payne said. “You tell the older student that the younger ones are looking at you to be an example.
“If you go through 13 years of this, you instill character and responsibility.”
Whatever the plan, there are no quick fixes, Payne stressed.
“I think so much of what we have looked at are short-term fixes for long-term issues,” Payne said. “It’s like trying put a Band-Aid on bone cancer. It might feel good to have that Band-Aid, but something deeper needs to happen, something more long term.”
As for police patrol and presence, Spearman has reached out the Louisiana State Police to help. He has been told that, like his department, State Police is short-handed. Abbeville Mayor Mark Piazza said Thursday that he would put in a request.
“I am personally going to put in a call to the Governor’s (John Bel Edwards) Office,” Piazza said. “It may not help, but I am going to call.”
The same group that met Thursday has plans to meet again in October, with the public officials to come back with updates on plans presented to their respective entities.
One concerned Vermilion Parish citizen who attended Thursday, Monique of Nunez, said the discussion Thursday and any discussions that happen at future meetings cannot merely be lip service.
“Our kids need to know that they are cared about,” she said. “If we are going to develop a plan that impacts the community, you get in a room and don’t leave until every aspect of that plan has been challenged and made to be concrete.”
Piazza shared that sentiment.
“The only way we are going to solve this is by getting together and hashing out ideas,” Piazza said. “We have to move forward with those ideas, not just talk about them.
“We have to take action.”
Payne said when the lives of youth are at stake, there are no second opportunities for a plan to effect change.
“We all have to come to grips with this,” Payne said. “This life is not a dress rehearsal. We’ve got one shot to make an impact on this community.
“If we don’t seize it with all of our heart, that’s what got us here to start with.”