JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If you're weary of one violent story after another in the local news, you're in good company. You're also not helpless to change it. Many local organizations sum up the solution with a one-word call to action: volunteer.
After a number of shootings in Jacksonville in just recent days, organizations are urging citizens to donate even small amounts of time to steer young lives away from the vortex of violence and crime.
"I think that we all can recall somebody from our younger days that really spent some time with us and impacted us," Jacksonville Police Athletic League executive director Lt. Lakesha Burton told First Coast News on Wednesday. "And, you know, years later, you can reflect on how important that relationship was."
Lt. Burton speaks from firsthand experience. She candidly goes on to detail how, at age 15, she was a new mother, causing mischief and getting in trouble with the law. She says the entire trajectory of her life changed when she met a now-retired police officer named Dexter Greene, who told her about the Police Athletic League.
"He saw something in me, that I didn't see in myself, and he invited me to P.A.L.," she continued, "I was lost, and I learned a lot out of athletics. I learned teamwork, I learned character, hard work, and in that I developed a skill set."
That skill set included basketball.
"Which later afforded me the opportunity to receive a full scholarship to the University of Central Florida, to play college basketball," the lieutenant detailed.
Today, she's successful, married, and a mother of three, and a champion of volunteering, passing her enthusiasm to the kids she now mentors.
"They try to motivate us to be the best person we can, and they try to reach out for us," said 11-year-old Stephron Allyson, who has been participating in the P.A.L. for two years now. "They try to [be] that second [voice], so we can have what we need and what we desire."
First Coast News also spoke with Terri Florio, executive director at the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, which incorporates tennis with its comprehensive mentorship and development programs, because, she says, "it's a non-traditional urban sport".
The primary focus, she says, is to help kids academically and with life skills, that will strengthen them against negative influences in their neighborhoods. Florio says the programs are often filled to capacity, but the volunteer lists often run short.
"The more volunteers we have, the better," Florio emphasized. "The more we can expose our kids to positive, successful adults that are role models, and that - if they can - become a mentor and kind of an adult friend to them, the better that will be."
The following is a list of just some local programs that accept help from volunteers:
- Achievers For Life
- Jacksonville Police Athletic League
- Take Stock in Children Program
- Best Buddie Florida
- Save Our Sons