It began with a visit from the police. The chief of police, to be exact.
Last fall, Wilkinsburg Police Chief Ophelia "Cookie" Coleman approached the Wilkinsburg Ministerial Association about ways that the local churches could be proactive in addressing violence among the community's youth.
Out of that conversation has arisen an initiative known as the Sanctuary Project, an effort by WILMA "to create dynamic, life changing opportunities for the teenage youth of our borough in order to eliminate youth and young adult violence as well as to create a positive perception of Wilkinsburg as a vibrant, dynamic and safe community to live, work and worship."
Yesterday's "About YOUth" block party marked the kickoff event of the Sanctuary Project. Held at the parking lot across from Wilkinsburg Senior High School from 1 to 6 p.m., the party included games, hair cutting, bike repair, free food, and free family photographs, as well as career counseling and displays detailing summer opportunities offered by community agencies.
"This is the kind of event I can bring my son to," said Eric Gonzalez, a member of the Wilkinsburg Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). "There aren't many things like this offered for the youth around here. But we have faith that when we start a project like this, God will make it happen. We're asking for the prayers, faith and hope of others."
The block party is only one aspect of the Sanctuary Project. In addition to a team that organizes outreach to the community and a funding team, the project includes a crisis response team, intended to train teens as first responders, train ministers to provide pastoral care immediately following an incident of violence, and organize prayer vigils.
pastor of Wilkinsburg Christian Church and one of the leaders of the project, says, "We turned the phrase 'It takes a village to raise a child' and turned it around to note that our youth will be the salvation of our village. This is to acknowledge that our work not only saves the lives of our youth, but helps to change the perception of Wilkinsburg as a violent place, which effects our business development and home ownership, etc."
With events like the block party and the support of Wilkinsburg's police chief and mayor, there is hope among the churches in the community that this project will one day meet the goal of its motto: "Saving our youth to save our community."
If you would like to be part of the Sanctuary Project, would like to make a donation, or would like more information about it, please contact Pastor Janet at firstname.lastname@example.org.