Local nonprofit receives $20,000 grant from the DOJ

Published 6:30 am Thursday, April 6, 2023

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By Clark Curtis for the Washington Daily News

North Carolina Community Outreach & Wellness, Inc., a nonprofit which serves both Beaufort and Pitt counties, has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the Department of Justices’ Project Safe Neighborhoods. The funds will serve as seed money for nonprofits’ Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Street Keepers program.

Studies from 2021 show that the unemployment rate in Beaufort County was 3.9 percent, the homeless rate was 18.75 percent, and that there were 67 reported violent crimes during that calendar year. The figures were similar in Pitt County which has an unemployment rate at 4.1 percent, a homeless rate at 20.7 percent, and 388 reported violent crimes. “The highest amount of crime occurs within our marginalized communities,” said Barbara Gaskins, director of NC Carolina Community Outreach & Wellness. “We have three goals through ENC Street Keepers. Reduce incidents of violent crime, promote public safety, and improve the quality of life for individuals and communities that are impacted by violence. We will do this through targeted support and services to help interrupt the cycle of violence and promote longterm positive change.”

This will be done in part through the work of Certified Credible Messengers (CCMs), These are individuals with relevant life experiences who are able to connect with and motivate the most at-risk young people. In doing so they are able to successfully challenge and transform destructive thinking, attitudes and actions. One of those who will be working with the local project is Melvin Farmer of Los Angeles, a founding member of the LA westside Crips in 1972,  and who has also served 31 years in prison. “We have to bring people to the table who have first hand knowledge of the issues at hand,” said Farmer. “And those who are at risk need to have someone they can speak to, someone who cares, and has gone through the same life experiences as them. It creates a dialogue and produces results. But it goes beyond the role of credible messengers. It’s a community effort, which will begin the process of communities healing across the nation. This ain’t a 48 hour process and the story ends. This is a passion for me and I just want to give back.”

Gaskins looks at the ENC Peace Keepers project as one of restorative justice, as they try to repair the harm caused by crime and conflict that has overtaken marginalized communities here and across the country. “We are seeking to address the root causes of violence and crime in our neighborhoods and give people another way to think and another way to live.”

One of many ways is to introduce at risk individuals to STEAM, Science Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, and as well as other life experiences outside of the streets. Kevin Cowns is a life long resident of Beaufort County, who grew up on one of the largest Black owned farms in eastern North Carolina. In addition to being a farmer, he is also a popular musical entertainer in the area.“I meet a lot of these kids through my entertainment work,” said Cowns. “All they know is the street life and living off food stamps and government assistance. I have been able to introduce them to outdoor living like fishing and farming. They are amazed when they see a deer or turkey on the farm or when they actually catch a fish. Whatever I can do, I’m down to help them out.”

In the end, Gaskins says one of her ultimate goals is to change the mindset of what a role model is. “People need to understand there are real life heroes out there, not the people that are typically depicted on TV,” said Gaskins. “People who can share their life stories and say they have lived and gone through what others have experienced. And ultimately, show them that they don’t have to travel down the same road. Together they can find alternative ways to deal with lifes’ often harsh issues.”

In June of this year, Gaskins will be traveling to the Credible Messengers Justice Center in New York City to obtain her certification and to learn step-by-step best practices for implementation of the program and the training of others. Gaskins added they are always in need of volunteers.