The Blue Ribbon Commission offers a ‘meaningful’ way for you to give back this holiday season

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WILMINGTON —  The Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC), a youth violence prevention program, is offering a meaningful and personal way to help struggling families during this holiday season. Anyone interested in helping to brighten a holiday can visit brczone.org and sign up to receive a family’s wish list of toys, clothes, necessities and things to read.

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“According to census data, the average annual income in the area we serve is $14,500,”said board member and communications director Paige Blair. “Life is generally stressful for these families, and this time of year it can be worse. This program brings some of the typical joys of the season into their homes. The people who sign up to fill a wish list really make a difference – it’s a great way to help others and spread some holiday cheer.”

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Chef Keith Rhodes at the BRC after-school Culinary Enrichment Program. (Courtesy: Blue Ribbon Commission)

The BRC was established as an initiative by community leaders, faith leaders and elected officials back in 2008 in response to the escalation of violence among youth on the Northside of downtown Wilmington at that time.

Since then, DC Virgo Preparatory Academy (which had previously been closed due to poor performance) has been re-opened in the neighborhood and now is a year round school, providing a tremendous resource for kids and families while bringing back a sense of pride in a very long standing community of people who celebrate the history of that school. The BRC became a it’s own 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2013. Our mission is “connecting youth with pathways to success.” We do that with a variety of programs that were designed with direct input from the community itself. We asked them questions about where their greatest needs lie and what would make the largest impact on their lives. We worked with the social workers and school officials as well to identify the specific set of challenges that our children are prone to face with learning loss and behavioral issues. The outcome is that the area is improving.

With advocacy from BRC, Portia Hines Park, an area that had become undesirable for children and even unsafe after dark, is now home to soccer fields, a Kaboom play yard, and other upgraded public areas including a community garden that is slated to be installed.

Now at the park, you can find Cucalourus hosting Pop-Up Cinema screens in the evenings during the summer months, our annual Yam Jam Fall Festival in October, kids’ soccer practices and a host of other weekend activities that are based around bringing the community together in a positive way.

The Hemenway Center on McRae Street is also re-opened and serves as the offices for BRC in addition to our after school program where 30 elementary aged kids have a place to go for a snack, help with school work, and time to play with friends each afternoon.

BRC Bike Safety Course. (Courtesy: Blue Ribbon Commission)
BRC Bike Safety Course. (Courtesy: Blue Ribbon Commission)

The BRC often has community partners offering enrichment activities for the kids at the center as well. Our 9th Grade Bridge Program is a five-week program that works to ensure that the transition into high school (where most drop-outs occur) is met with full support for kids who need academic support and/or mentoring. The program includes job shadowing at local firms and culminates with a 2-day field trip to 5 NC college campus tours.

Job Shadowing at NHRMC. (Courtesy: Blue Ribbon Commission)
Job Shadowing at NHRMC. (Courtesy: Blue Ribbon Commission)

We piloted our first Summer Jobs Program in 2016 where we put 30 high school kids to work in 15 local businesses, all of whom earned their first paycheck! Not only did they receive on the job training, but they went through a full week of Job Training Boot camp, followed by weekly job counseling sessions. Several of the kids were offered on-going positions.

We have a turn-around suspension program that keeps kids safe and offers mental health & behavioral counseling services, academic support and mentoring for kids that experience on-going issues in the classroom and end up with heavy suspensions from school.

We also offer school break programs to keep our kids engaged with academic support in math and literacy as well as enrichment courses during the days when school is tracked out.

Our community outreach program and youth leadership council work to maintain a true connection into the neighborhood so that we can be assured that we are using our resources where they are needed most, within the 140 block area we serve where the average household income is $14,500 per year.

Despite the vulnerabilities that these children face, we don’t believe that their future should be defined by their circumstance.

Visit brczone.org for more information, or call 910.341.4633.

-Content provided by Paige Blair

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