Rec Centers take critical role in fight against gangs - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Rec Centers take critical role in fight against gangs

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- Shellie Hampton, 13, and Cordaro Cummins, 14,  are expecting more than a few pickup basketball games at the South Chattanooga Rec Complex this summer.

"It'll keep me focused and keep me out of trouble," Shellie says.

"If it wasn't for this, I'd have no choice but to hang with friends out doing dumb stuff that they'd like to do, Cordaro says.

Next Monday, the Parks & Recreation Department begins 8 weeks of paid day camps for grade- schoolers.

"Field trips and lunches, and especially gardening, all were a big success last year," spokesman  Brian Smith says.

But from 5-9PM in Saint Elmo, and five other rec centers: it's all about, intervention, as prevention, for so-called 'at-risk' teenagers.

"There's a lot of pressure on the street to not come here," intervention coordinator Marcus Thomas says.

Proof of that is the 'holding area' that Mayor Ron Littlefield ordered created to hold curfew violators following a series of disturbances at Coolidge Park last summer.

It never was used.  So what will make this effort, effective?

"We get them involved and bring them to the table," Thomas says.

"We'll physically bring them here, and give them, you know--the tools to be creative."

Figuratively speaking, Chattanooga's anti-gang initiative, "The Future Is Ours" is about planting seeds. A lot more seeds than will grow the vegetables for the kabobs that they'll create for a coursework in 'grilling.'

"We're trying to incorporate some kind of trade into their program," Thomas says.

The South Chattanooga Rec Center, for example will offer a three-days-per-week course in cosmetology, beginning June 11.

Thomas is among the first to admit the only way to reach many teenagers, beyond the center's typically lower-risk regulars, is to show them how to make money, legally:

"The ones that are coming back, it's probably their second or third trip," he says.

"They're learning how to interview."

But Cordaro and Shellie believe money is only part of it.

"Once you actually get into it, it's not all about the money, " Shellie says.

"They show you things, that you still want to come back."

"The fact is that it's safe, and people open their arms to them,Cordaro says.

"Helping us, gives us an opportunity to see what life is like."

The Anti-Gang initiative unveils its full plan at noon Saturday, at the Carver Cultural Center in Orchard Knob.

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