NEWPORT NEWS -- People with the City of Newport News hope that hundreds of summer jobs will offer young people more than just a paycheck.
The Youth & Gang Violence Prevention Initiative is looking for the real payoff to be a life-shaping experience that will steer them away from violence.
"It's certainly more than just a job for me," began the initiative's coordinator, MaRhonda Echols. "It's actually ministry to be able to touch the lives of young people, to be able to get them to see that there is some potential, their lives are worth something, regardless of what their past is, regardless of where you came from. There's always hope, and there are people who are willing to help you achieve that."
The Summer Training & Enrichment Program (STEP) is one component of the work done by Echols and her team.
Through it, the city is able to hire about 200 people between the ages of 16 and 24 who live in the Southeast Community. For application purposes, anyone who lives south of Mercury Boulevard is eligible.
Besides giving those hired the chance to develop skills, the program offers field trips and other activities and services.
The need for the program and the overall initiative seems especially apparent this year.
To dated, there have been more than a dozen murders in 2015, including the killings of 13-year-old Jada Richardson and 17-year-old Domingo Santiago Davis, Jr. April 6.
Police said their shooting deaths were the result of gang violence.
Davis, who had a criminal record, was someone whom Street Outreach Workers identified as a teenager they might be able to help.
"He was someone we were trying to get to. We had not gotten our hands on him directly, but he was someone who we knew had some potential, and someone who we wanted to talk to," Echols told 13News Now. "Before we had an opportunity to even begin a conversation, you know, he lost his life."
The city is recruiting businesses and organizations that would like to provide summer opportunities to STEP participants at no cost to them. Job sites must be in Newport News. They do not have to be in the target area.
All funding for STEP is provided by the Newport News Youth & Gang Violence Initiative, including the stipend the participants receive.
In addition to the program, the Youth & Gang Violence Prevention Initiative has $250,000 available in grant money for organizations interested in working with the city's efforts. The deadline to submit a proposal is the end of the business day May 1.
Among the criteria the city will consider is services a group offers and the reach it can provide through those services.
Anyone with questions about the grant application process or STEP can contact Echols at 757-926-3678 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Businesses and organizations interested in providing job sites also can contact Echols at the same number or email address.
"This is why we're here, to be able to make a difference. This is why we're here, to begin to impact lives and begin to bring a change, so, hopefully, we won't continue to see the tide of young people losing their lives, not just in Newport News, but across the country," Echols said.