WILKES-BARRE – While one community initiative was launched a few months ago to find ways to combat youth violence in Greater Wilkes-Barre, a city church group has been working on a similar goal for over a year.
And the fruit of the New Covenant Christian Fellowship Church's work is coming to bear this weekend at Coal Street Park, with a basketball tournament on Saturday and a church service on Sunday.
"The youth of our church have begun a campaign to show other youth in the area that it's OK and fun to live a positive, crime-free/gang-free life and maintain a God consciousness," said Theresa Tyler-Smith, church co-pastor.
"They're reaching out into areas that have been labeled ‘high-crime areas' and, rather than waiting on other youth to come to the church, it was decided that we would take (the church) to them. That's why we decided on Coal Street Park," she said.
The Kingdom Basketball Tournament, slated for 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, was coordinated by Patrick Reece, a church member and a coach at Holy Redeemer High School.
"It's basically an idea to try to get the youth together. A lot of people like to play basketball and show their skills and talent, so we thought this would be a great opportunity," Reece said.
The Kingdom Explosion church service from 9:45 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sunday also will be held on the basketball courts at Coal Street Park, Tyler-Smith said.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, representatives of Luzerne County Juvenile Probation and other community leaders are expected to attend the service.
The events are the first public functions of SOAR – Street Outreach and Redemption – a ministry implemented by the church to do outreach into local high-risk communities.
"We're trying to effectuate a change in the kids from inside out and we're using spirituality to do that. Events like this are just a drawing card because we're going to have people here talking about being more spiritual, developing relationships," Tyler-Smith said.
"We know that one of the main attractions to gang life is the sense of relationship and being a part of something like a family. It's how the bloods came into being. A lot of kids around here don't have those healthy relationships, so that's what we're trying to do, but we're doing it from a more spiritual perspective," she said.
Helping youth develop nurturing relationships and resist invitations to gang membership are two of the goals of another community-based initiative that began back in May after the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Tyler Winstead outside his Hill Street home in April.
The Building Bridges initiative was born when The Rev. Shawn Walker of the First Baptist Church and the Rev. Michael Brewster of Mt. Zion Baptist Church began working with Mayor Tom Leighton and the city to reduce crime and make the city safer for youth.
"I think this will definitely be a benefit to what Building Bridges is trying to do," Tyler-Smith said.
What: Kingdom Basketball Tournament and Kingdom Explosion church service
When: Tournament – 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; Church Service – 9:45 to 11 a.m. Sunday
Where: Basketball Courts at Coal Street Park, Wilkes-Barre