Combatting youth violence with after-school activities

NOW: Combatting youth violence with after-school activities

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Sometimes, keeping kids safe is as easy as keeping them busy. That's the rationale behind many programs throughout South Bend, including the open gym nights at Boys and Girls Club of St. Joseph County (BGCSJC).

As crimes trend downward in South Bend, violence among young people trends upward.

“A lot of times, people in these areas grow up in survival mode," said Takisha Jacobs. "They grow up learning when your backs against the wall, you fight like the dickens to get out.

Jacobs knows the pain of gun violence all too well.

“We started as mothers that have lost children to gun violence, and we needed to learn how to turn that pain into purpose,” she said.

She helped found Connect 2 Be the Change.

“We are big advocates for mental health awareness in our community, underserved communities," Jacobs said. "And we do a lot of exposure trips—taking people out of the places that harm them or where they’ve done harm and help them to understand that there’s another means to deal with their anger other than violence.”

She learned that keeping kids out of trouble could just be as simple as keeping them busy.

“One of the major goals is giving these kids something else to do because when they don’t have anything to do, they go in the streets, and then trouble ends up finding them.” she said.

Ashley Person is Club Director for the O.C. Carmichael Jr. Youth Center at the BGCSJC.

“I believe that extracurriculars are very powerful in that because they’re keeping the kids busy," she said. "I always remember my grandmother said growing up, ‘idle hands are the devil’s playground,’ like, if these kids are staying busy, and have something productive to do, there’s no time for them to get into trouble or to get into the wrong things.”

Connect 2 Be the Change partners with BGCSJC to host frequent Friday open gym nights at the facility on Sample and Fellows, for ages 13-24, giving teens a safe space to spend the start of their weekend.

Jacobs said a lot of children are home alone after school, largely due to single parents who need to work. Person said the O.C. Center is a safe space to spend a Friday night.

“I do have somewhere where I can hang with my friends, and not have to worry about something bad to them happening, because unfortunately, that is the reality of the world right now,” Person said.

But open gym nights aren’t the only new thing available for teens.

“We also have our teen center, which is brand new this year as well, which is super cool because I don’t think a lot of people realize that teens do not want to go to the same club that little kids go to,” Person said.

A teens-only club is open every day after school until nine at the former Temple Beth-el, but now it shares a building with the Portage School of Leaders.

“It’s been received very, very well. The teens I’ve spoken to—I lost some of my teens that were here but—they enjoy being over there,” Person said.

Open gyms at the O.C. Carmichael Youth Center are every Friday from 6:30-9 p.m., free and open to ages 13-24.

To get involved with Connect 2 Be the Change, contact Jacobs at [email protected] or

To learn more about BGCSJC, click here. To learn about The Club Teen Center, click here.

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