LUMBERTON — The North Carolina Youth Violence Prevention Center has established a series of programs addressing the needs of thousands of Robeson County youth and their families over the past decade.
This week the Center celebrated that fact and the opening of a new facility at 3450 Capuano Drive in Lumberton.
The public had a chance to walk through the new facility Thursday, which will serve as an extension of the main office at 800 N. Walnut St., adjacent to the Robeson County Board of Elections. Directors were on hand to discuss their programs and services offered while refreshments were served.
The Center’s purpose is to support the needs of youth and families by providing a seamless continuum of services that prevent future violence and support victims, according to James Barbee, executive director and cofounder of the Prevention Center. Services provided through the center include community mobilization, and nonprofit consultation for organizations whose focus is violence prevention, juvenile justice and victims of crime, among others.
“This is our program services building now because our programs have grown,” Barbee said Thursday at the open house. “We have grown significantly with programming and things.”
Ten years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Barbee and Paul Smokowsky, now the Center’s director of Robeson Adverse Childhood Experiences, with a five-year grant to establish the country’s first rural Academic Center of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention.
“The grant was to focus on reducing youth violence in Robeson County,” Smokowsky said. “We worked on that for our first five years and since then, we’ve done a number of exciting programs that we’ve brought into the county.”
Prior to the grant expiring, Smokowsky and Barbee were tasked with figuring our how to continue its programs and thus decided to establish a nonprofit agency. As the programs continued to grow and the center continued to receive grants more paid positions were established.
“At the Board of Elections, we were pretty much two to three to an office over there,” Barbee said. “We had actually grown out of our building — staffwise and personnelwise — and so we also wanted to keep our administrative services and support in one location and move our program services to another location.”
In the past decade the center has brought in more than $10 million in funding for evidence-based youth and violence prevention and served more than 10,000 youth and families in Robeson, Richmond and Columbus counties.
According to program reports, through the center partnerships, programs, services and initiatives, Robeson County has seen a 58% decrease in complaints against juveniles through the eight-year period from 2010 to 2018. In the same period, the number of juveniles detained has dropped 86% and the delinquency in Robeson County has fallen 54%.
“It’s not just us. We have partnerships with the Sheriff’s Office and with Lumberton police so we work with close partners in the community, but our focus is both working on victimization and crime in the area and helping to decrease those problem areas for youth and for families,” Smokowsky said.
One of the programs established through the Violence Prevention Center is Positive Action, a program geared toward middle school students in Robeson and Columbus counties to have teachers use positive reinforcement techniques instead of disciplining negative behavior.
Another program established is Parenting Wisely.
“Parenting Wisely is to help parents work with their youth in a positive way and handle challenges that come up with teenagers,” Smokowsky said.
One of the most impactful accomplishments of the Youth Violence Prevention Center is the resurgence of Teen Court.
“We reinvigorated Teen Court, and that program has been going strong for 10 years,” Smokowsky said.
Shaun Barefoot, the program’s director, said it was “passion and heart” those first few years.
“We went from barely being able to get 50 referrals and trying like 30 cases in a year to getting over 200 referrals and trying over 156 cases a year, so it went went leaps and bounds,” Barefoot said. “We started in a little broom closet at UNCP to literally transitioning over to Walnut Street and now we have Capuano.”
The Center gets Teen Court referrals from Juvenile Court counselors.
“Instead of them going to court, they go to Teen Court, where other youth decide how to reconnect them to community service instead of the juvenile justice system, so it’s really a great restorative justice model,” Smokowsky said. “They are reintegrated into the community in a positive way. They don’t have a criminal record that would stop them from going to college or getting a job.”
Chief District Court Judge Angelica Chavis McIntyre is a product of the program and credits it for her choice in career.
“When I started in Teen Court I started as a student advocate,” McIntyre said. “I think that it’s not only beneficial for the students that are participating in those roles but for the juvenile who is facing the crime. They get to see folks their age who are doing something that are special … and I think that can be an encouragement to them.”
Jordan Hendren first began volunteering for Teen Court to accumulate service hours for Beta Club. Now in her second semester in college, she is still lending her services to the program.
“It’s been a while,” Hendren said. “It made me choose my major in social work. It made me be what I wanted to be.”