LEON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — "Violent behavior is a symptom of poverty, it is not a chosen behavior...taking something from someone is a survival mechanism, if I had enough then I wouldn't need to take it, then I would've never taken it from you... we would've never practiced that behavior," said Kevin Warren, the CEO of The Life Group.
The Life Group is partnering with Leon County Schools to help high schoolers most at risk for gun violence. Their mission is to reduce violence and recidivism rates by reaching at least 250 high schoolers a year and connecting them with wrap-around mental health and community services.
They plan to serve students who have been suspended or expelled, shown violent behavior…or have experienced trauma, substance abuse, or neglect.
They also want to serve at-risk kids in underserved communities like the 32304 area.
"We have behavioral and mental health issues out there we also see that we have 90 thousand more dollars per year median household income in 32312 versus 32304," exclaimed Warren on the key differences between economically disadvantaged neighborhoods versus wealthier areas in the county.
So how will the partnership work?
The Life Group will screen kids showing at-risk behaviors to meet their specific needs with either a violence interrupter or a life coach. Violence interrupters provide conflict resolution and anti-violence solutions. Life coaches give access to social and emotional learning and development.
"The huge part of it is relationship, being able to relate to their similar experiences, meeting them where they are and then understanding from that point where do you want to go," said Jonathan Goodwin, a life coach and program director at The Life Group.
Goodwin will be on the campus of every high school to make sure students can connect to the right mental and behavioral health services they need so they don't turn to violence. He says it's building those relationships that will create the change.
"It's being able to break past those barriers," added Goodwin.
Warren says they also plan to have group sessions where students can talk about how they want to see the 1 million dollars the City of Tallahassee set aside on reducing gun violence...spent.
"Success is just us not quitting on these kids and making sure every time we're scheduled to show up, we'll show up," added Warren.
The Life Group will have life coaches and violence interrupters on every high school campus starting in January 2023.