To help address the issue of youth violence in New Jersey communities, Assembly Democrats Vincent Mazzeo, Angela McKnight and John Armato sponsor a bill that would establish a grant program to provide funding to youth mentoring programs. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Women and Children Committee on Wednesday.
Under the bill (A-5502), a program would be established within the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to provide grants to organizations offering – or seeking to offer – mentoring services programs. The mentoring services must provide advice, support or instruction/opinions that helps positively influence a young person’s judgement or conduct.
“Ensuring young people have mentors from their communities who can guide them through their formative years will help improve the well-being of our youth,” said Assemblyman Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Providing funding to organizations offering insightful mentorship is how we can position the next generation for a better future while limiting the destructive violence taking place in towns and cities across New Jersey.”
Homicide is the third leading cause of death for Americans aged 15-24, while anywhere from 152,000 to 238,000 violent crimes are perpetrated every year by Americans aged 12-17.
“A mentorship program that understands where a young person is coming from and why they have engaged in dangerous or harmful activities has a real chance of getting through to them,” said Assemblywoman McKnight (D-Hudson). “We must empower these programs to help the youth of New Jersey turn their lives around.”
Organizations’ programs must provide mentorship to people under the age of 22 in order to be eligible for a grant. Preference for grant awards will be given to programs that provide young people with alternatives to joining a street gang.
“Sometimes all it takes is compassionate, thoughtful guidance to alter the course of a young person’s life,” said Assemblyman Armato (D-Atlantic). “Having adults they respect, who they can turn to for advice, is an opportunity every child both needs and deserves.”
To be eligible for the grant program, organizations must submit an application to the DCA Commissioner outlining their existing/planned services, explaining their current funding and stating the requested grant amount.
The legislation now heads to the Appropriations Committee.