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Steele Creek Youth Network Continues to Change Lives
Presented by Officer Lisa Speas, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
Steele Creek Residents Association Annual Meeting, February 25, 2010

Officer Lisa SpeasThank you for allowing me the opportunity to share with you about the Steele Creek Youth Network or SCYN.  I want to begin by having a couple members of the audience share a couple of examples of how the Steele Creek Youth Network impacted the lives of our Steele Creek youth over the past year.


I am a 16-year old male living in the Steele Creek community.  I am a member of a Crips gang in my neighborhood, and have been involved in a gang since I was in the 5th grade.  I am well-respected by my gang members, and have moved up in rank over the years.  I attend Olympic HS. 


I am now 18-years old and still live in the Steele Creek community.  I am no longer involved with the Crips gang or any other gang.  I began attending the Steele Creek Youth Network Friday and Saturday night programs in the churches and found a place where I belong.  At the weekend programs, I am able to share with other teens about my life and encourage them to not take the violent path I took.  I will graduate from Olympic HS in June 2010 and plan to go to CPCC to study graphic art. 


I am an 11-year old male who attends Kennedy Middle School.  I moved to Charlotte last year with my mother – we moved here from New York City because my older cousin was a gang member and he was shot and killed on the streets in New York.  I was angry with the rival gang who shot my cousin, so I joined his gang so I could retaliate.  My mother moved me here to get me away from the gang life.  I am still angry and perform poorly in school.  I disrespect my mother and am getting involved in a gang at the school here.


Last summer I attended the Steele Creek Youth Network outdoor summer camp, Survivor Copperhead Island, at McDowell Nature Preserve.  I did not want to go because I had never been in the woods before, and I did not know anyone else in the camp.  I attended the camp in June and it turned my life around.  The adult counselors made me feel special, like I could accomplish anything, and I grew to love the outdoors, even bugs.  I was voted the Most Improved Camper at the camp by the other campers, and I earned a new bicycle.  Now I am making the A-B Honor Roll at Kennedy MS, and my mom says I am like a different kid.


I am a 15-year old female who lives with my grandmother in Charlotte.  My mother lives with her boyfriend in Columbia SC, and I don’t get along with him.  He abuses my mother.  Lately I have been running away and going to stay with a 30-year old man.  I attend Waddell HS, but I have been skipping school and am failing my classes.


I have been attending the weekend programs of the Steele Creek Youth Network for over three years.  At first, I attended them because they were fun and I could hang out with my friends.  But then I started hanging out with new friends at school and they were a bad influence on me.  I started running away and doing things that I should not have been doing.  But my friends from SCYN kept calling me to get me to come back to the Friday and Saturday night programs and I finally decided to attend again.  As a result, I decided to attend another high school and convinced my mother to move to Charlotte so we could live together again.  Now I am making all A’s and am singing in the choir at our church in Charlotte.

Steele Creek Youth NetworkSo these are just a few of the kids who participate in the Steele Creek Youth Network.   For those of you not familiar with SCYN, it is a youth violence prevention program that I created in May 2005 for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.  SCYN is about connecting our local faith community and neighborhood volunteers with middle and high school youth in the Steele Creek community, and giving the teens a voice at all the programs, and teaching them life skills they will need to be successful in school and in life.

Over the years, there have been as many as eight new weekend programs in southwest Charlotte that were created as partnerships between local houses of faith and SCYN.  Currently there are two SCYN weekend programs that continue on a monthly basis.  The program that met here at SWMS – REVolution 161 – ended in December 2009 not due to a lack of youth participation, but to a lack of support from the school administration and not enough adult volunteers to supervise the program.  The Friday night youth program averaged over 450 middle school youth every month.

The weekend programs meet from 6:30-10 pm on Friday and Saturday nights in the local churches.  During that time, the teens give up their cell phones and iPods and instead have a group discussion about drug and alcohol abuse by teens, how to stop violence in their neighborhoods, and what issues they are struggling with in their lives.  They are served a healthy dinner, and then have a 3-on-3 basketball tournament.  Others may play games or cards, or they may create a holiday or thank you card for a parent or soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan.  All in all, the weekend programs are simply a safe place where local Steele Creek teens find they fit in, and caring adults are always there to listen and support them, not just to give advice.

Another component of SCYN is the outdoor summer camps, Survivor Copperhead Island, similar to an Outward Bound experience.  Middle schoolers are selected to spend the week outdoors, learning outdoor survival skills, fishing, kayaking, building a fire and cooking over the open fire, hiking and backpacking, camping, and learning to be leaders so they can share their experiences with other youth when they return to their neighborhoods.  With 3-4 adult camp counselors for ten teens, trust building and relationship building happens instantly and once again, the campers are empowered to attempt new activities they never dreamed possible.  It is not uncommon for there to be significant improvements in the youth’s behavior, academics, and self-efficacy as a result of Survivor Copperhead Island.

This summer there will be six outdoor summer camps for middle school youth.  I will direct the camps through the Right Moves for Youth program, and sixty middle school youth who participate in a Right Moves for Youth club this academic year will be chosen based on their improvements in academics, attendance and behavior.

The Steele Creek Youth Network is about youth violence education and awareness.  Since last year, I presented to an additional 45 organizations, homeowner’s associations, houses of faith groups, school and after-school programs – all on what one person or an entire organization can do to identify violence in their neighborhoods and more importantly, how to prevent youth violence before it happens.  If you participate in a business or organization that could benefit from being more aware of youth violence and youth violence prevention, email or call me and let’s discuss having me come out and having a discussion about it with your group.

SCYN is about identifying organizations that can provide teens with job training and placement, especially in the summer when the teens are out of school and have a lot of free time to go astray. 

SCYN is about partnering with Steele Creek apartments in the summer and providing free bagged lunches to all youth, ages 18 and under, so they have a free, healthy lunch each day.

SCYN is a referral source that can assist parents and teens with local organizations that the family needs in times of crisis or when a kid needs something to do after school or on the weekend.

SCYN’s mission is to prevent and reduce youth violence in Charlotte.  And for the past five years of SCYN’s existence, it has been both successful and unsuccessful in accomplishing this mission.  Though the success stories of Steele Creek teens who have participated in Steele Creek Youth Network activities exceed the stories of those teens who took the wrong path, the work of SCYN is ongoing and never-ending.  And God-willing, I will not let SCYN go by the wayside.  We must continue to reach out to all our Steele Creek youth and remind them every day that we believe in them, and that we expect them to graduate from high school, and follow their passions and talents to be productive, successful citizens in our community.

Since the Steele Creek Residents Association meeting last year, I was transferred from the CMPD Steele Creek division to the Right Moves for Youth office.  For those of you not familiar with Right Moves, it is a 20-year old local organization started by a Charlotte Police officer.  RMFY empowers youth in grades 4-12 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to make improvements in academics, school and class attendance, behavior and attitude, and social skills.  I am the Law Enforcement Liaison between Right Moves and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

So what that means is that now, instead of having one full-time job, I have two! 

But more importantly it means that the youth and teens in Steele Creek have access to additional youth programs not only in the community but also in the schools.  It means that the outdoor summer camps will increase from 3-4 each summer to 6.  It means that youth violence prevention education can be taken into the schools from elementary through high school, and that life skills can be learned every week as opposed to just once a month.

Though my office is no longer in the Steele Creek division, my work in this division continues as before.  I never left Steele Creek, and most importantly, I will never leave the youth in this community that I have been building relationships with for over five years.  My calling in this short life is working with at-risk youth, and the Steele Creek Youth Network continues to be a proven way for me to touch the lives of hundreds, even thousands, of at-risk youth.  I ask for your support of this worthwhile program – if you have the time or resources to continue this work with local teens, then make contact with me at your earliest convenience.

In closing, the most important work in a kid’s life takes place in the home.  Having parents or guardians who are positive role models, who provide structure and guidelines in the home for the youth, and who encourage staying in school and putting education as a priority – some of the basic ways that parents can show support to their kids.

The Steele Creek Youth Network is simply some additional support that parents can use for their teens.  SCYN will not save all the kids, but if it saves just one, then it has served its purpose and is well worth its weight in gold.

Thank you.


Contact Officer Speas at lspeas@cmpd.org.