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Youth programs hope to disrupt a ‘culture of violence’

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 5:55 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - How do you solve the crime issue in the City of New Orleans? For some, the solution starts at home and by providing opportunities for positive growth to the city’s youth.

St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in Treme is hoping to do just that.

Anna’s Place NOLA is a program born out of the “Murder Board”-- a board listing the names of people killed in New Orleans, and it’s an eye-opening sight to see right outside the church.

“There is a crime problem in New Orleans, but it’s been endemic,” said Fr. Bill Terry of St. Anna’s. “We’ve been doing this for 12 years.”

The program was launched in response to the murders and crime and Father Terry said it was time to make a change. The program is for city youth and hopes to break the cycle of poverty and violence.

“The idea is to play the long game. If we’re going to change behaviors, if we’re going to alter what has been characterized as a culture of violence, then we have to have forces that will disrupt that culture of violence,” said Terry.

Disruption by way of education, said Terry, along with a sense of place and empowering children.

The program provides tutoring and transportation for children, picking them up from school and bringing them home later. Kids like 15 year old Felein Beaulieu.

“Before I came here I was bullied and when I came here I started making friends. So I learned how to interact with people more,” said Beaulieu.

Beaulieu got into Jesuit High School and his life has changed. He said he’s making friends, he learned how to play the trumpet, and is in the school marching band. His favorite class is western civilization with Mr. Trosclair.

“He’s very energetic. He always brings out props,” he said.

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His mother, Felicia Parish, is thankful this program exists in her community.

“I’m a single mother. I work and I need that extra hand behind me when I’m not actually there to keep them on that path,” she said. “I can’t wait to see the outcome of their lives because of the impacts of St. Anna’s.”

The program is small but it’s making a huge impact. The folks here at Anna’s Place hope to break the cycle of systemic racism and poverty that have plagued generations of families in New Orleans. It requires two big things though; a lot of funding and care.

Care from people like Darryl Durham, founder, and director of Anna’s Place NOLA, who said programs like this are part of the solution to the growing crime issue.

“I think it starts with the community. I think it starts with the parents. Saying look, whatever we’re doing is not working,” said Durham. “And if you don’t interrupt it, then you’re just gonna repeat that cycle.”

Durham says giving more opportunities to the city’s at-risk youth before they become trapped in a system with little promise for success is working. Nearly 100% of the children who have gone through the program over the last five years graduated from high school.

“To be able to say that we were a part of that... I can’t think of anything else that’s more important,” said Durham. “To be able to say that we can take a kid who had very little opportunity, and turn that kid into something that’s productive... Part of me is angry because that kid was failed by so many people. And part of me is proud because this church stepped up and became a part of that kid’s life.”

Anna’s Place NOLA is just one program helping at-risk youth, but it takes funding.

Program leaders said it costs about $60,000 a year to provide tutoring and transportation for roughly 30 children during the school year, and up to 70 children over the summer months. They would like to see their program expand in the future, and see more programs like their’s replicated throughout the city to help even more children.

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