TIMES SHAMROCK NEWSPAPERS CITIZENS VOICE, HAZLETON STANDARD SPEAKER, SCRANTON TIMES
Community in focus at anti-gang forum
May 4, 2012
By Josh Moyer (Staff writer)
Panel members introduce themselves during the Gang Awareness Information Session held at the Educational Conference Center on the Luzerne County Community College campus.
Angel Jirau was playing dominoes with friends outside the Brooklyn projects on a 1960s afternoon when a rival gang member showed up.
The armed man approached one of Jirau's friends on a park bench, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Shortly afterward, Jirau, who is now a Wilkes-Barre native, experienced an epiphany when an old man pulled him aside, questioned whether he wanted to follow in his friend's footsteps and then offered a job.
"I was mad at the world. The only love I got was from the gang, man," Jirau said Thursday. "And then this guy took me aside, gave me so much love and showed me the other way. It was the community."
Jirau was among seven other panel members Thursday to emphasize the importance of community - family, churches, schools, neighborhoods - in combating local gang activity. More than 100 people attended the third part of Operation Gang Up's information session at Luzerne County Community College. Jirau called this the most important yet.
Panel members took turns addressing different ways the community could help, but all the comments revolved around one theme: family. Gangs sometimes fill a hole by making an individual feel loved, they said. To combat that, a community just has to show love to that individual.
William Browning, executive director of the Lackawanna County Department of Health Services, said mentoring as a Big Brother or Big Sister might help deter children from becoming gang members. Pastor Theresa Tyler-Smith said the church could provide a safe place for children. Another panel member said upcoming school programs could slow gang growth.
Even sponsoring family game nights would be a start, Browning added.
"It's so common sense. Family cohesion is important," Browning said. "But some people just don't do it anymore."
The session began with a slideshow from an FBI agent before panel members took turns introducing themselves. An hourlong Q-and-A followed and included responses from the organizers of the event, U.S. Rep Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township.
"So often we hear how we can't find common ground," Barletta said, "but here's an example where we can join together and make a difference with the community."
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