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New Faces Join Growing Violence Intervention Program

NBC Universal, Inc.

A Connecticut non-profit that specializes in youth violence prevention is growing. Leonard Jahad launched CT Violence Intervention Program in June 2019, and the organization has been running non-stop ever since: 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

They work with youth who are at risk for violent crimes. Violence prevention outreach workers serve as mediators for rivals, offer therapy for those who need it, and provide programs and activities for young people at the organization’s headquarters on Ashmun Street.

They’re also the ones called when gun violence erupts.

“Incidents are being settled through gun violence and we’re trying to change that culture, where if there’s a conflict it doesn’t have to result in a gunfight or shots or threats,” Jahad said.

“I love the mission, I love the fact that we can be hands-on with our clients in the community, to be able to put our hands right on that violence and say there’s a better option, how can we get there,” said Alivia Langley, the organization’s new program manager.

She’s been with CT VIP for two weeks and is among six new hires. Many say they’ve wanted to work with the non-profit since it began.

“I actually reached out to Leonard probably two years ago to see if he needed anything and I think he was still getting things together,” said Teryn Jasmine, the operations manager who joined the team on Monday. She’s a New Haven native with an MBA who will help run the financial operations.

“I knew it was perfect,” said Jasmine.  

Each new staff member brings a different set of skills and experiences to the table to further the program’s goal of stopping youth violence before it starts.

“I go into the schools and help the kids to get their grades up, I recommend them to certain tutors, therapy. Just to make sure that they don’t lose themselves and understand that they have a second chance when it comes to education, or when it comes to getting into trouble,” said David Byfield, who will work with Hamden school students who are referred to the town’s juvenile review board.

“So, we get referrals from the school, the police, the court and the community of youth that are struggling in one form or another, whether there’s been an arrest or problems in school,” said Mary Hall, the new Hamden program coordinator.

She has 10 years of experience working with Hamden’s huvenile review board, which now will go through CT VIP. The youth assigned to the board are given an individualized program plan that could include things like therapy and community service that the organization will help them complete.

“The great thing about the program is it helps youth who are referred via the court or police wind up with no criminal record if they successfully complete the program,” said Hall.

A lot of the work that’s now spread among six new staffers was done by executive director Leonard Jahad.

“So, with that, we really had to refine what we do on a daily basis,” Jahad said. “We’re not a traditional mentorship program. We deal with the highest risk youth and that’s what we really need to focus on.”

As for violent crime, he also has plans for a data expert to join the team to run the numbers on the program’s success.

“We can count the shootings, the shots fired, and the homicides. How do you collect the data on things that we stopped?” he said.

Money from private donors and the American Rescue Plan is funding the expansion. Now they’re focusing on strategic partnerships.

“Coming from New Haven, growing up in New Haven, when you make mistakes it’s hard to bounce back, to get an opportunity to move forward,” said Gramen Wilson, who is the organization’s treasurer. He also owns 32 McDonald’s franchises across the state, four are in New Haven.  

He and CT VIP are in discussions about ays to find job opportunities for young people at his restaurants.

“So, if we have the opportunity to bring them outside the community so they can work, reduce their vulnerability for violence and then we have an opportunity to catch them,” Jahad said.

Wilson said he was moved early on by the work CT VIP does in the community reaching at-risk youth.

“The bottom line is these are kids that maybe have been misguided or misled, and these folks aren’t making a whole lot of money, they’re not getting rich off of what they do. But to give back to the community to me is impressive,” Wilson said.

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