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Gang prevention group to lose funding

A Charlotte gang prevention and intervention group will lose the majority of its funding and staff when federal grants run out in June.

Gang of One, an organization headed by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, has mentored young people involved with gangs and educated family members and others about how to resist gang activity since 2004.

Just two years ago, it was instrumental in opening the Greenville Neighborhood Center near uptown, where it hosts classes on leadership, job readiness and cooking.

The group works one on one with about 70 youths who are involved in gangs or gang-related crimes.

But three federal grants totaling $300,000 that have supported seven of the group’s eight staff members and the majority of its gang prevention programming will end this June.

And the police department cannot afford to take over that funding, said Fran Cook, the CMPD employee who serves as the Gang of One director.

“We fill a unique gap in the work that we do,” Cook said. “But the blessing and curse of a grant-funded opportunity is the wonderful opportunity to build something, but you may not have the opportunity to sustain it.”

Cook estimates Gang of One affects more than 12,000 people annually – through one-on-one mentoring, group classes, informational booths at events and partnerships with other organizations.

Seven case managers work individually with about 20 teenagers to put together life plans, help them find education and job opportunities and, if needed, connect them with mental health and substance abuse services.

In addition, the group hosts classes every Thursday night at the Greenville center for families who want to keep their children out of gangs.

County budget cuts had previously shut down the center, but Gang of One was able to secure a $340,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Justice and Delinquency Prevention as part of the U.S. attorney general’s anti-violence initiative.

The Greenville center, which also hosts the Police Activities League charity, will stay open, but all Gang of One classes will cease in June.

CMPD officials don’t know yet how it will continue gang prevention and intervention efforts – something the Gang Enforcement Unit said is important in addressing gang crime in the Charlotte area.

There are about 1,700 gang members in Mecklenburg County, a number that is up from 853 known gang members in August 2005. But CMPD Sgt. Scott Sherwood said the figure has remained steady over the past couple of years.

“Intervention does help,” Sherwood said. “The younger we get them, the easier it is because we can get them resources.”

Cook, who is paid $70,000 annually by CMPD, is the only staff member currently set to stay on with the group, although department officials said there may be opportunities to contract out some of the other positions.

“I honestly don’t know what it’s going to look like when the grants dry up completely,” Sherwood said.

Steele: 704-358-5067; On Twitter: @steelecs
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