Training partnership aims to LAUNCH members out of gangs - WSMV Channel 4

Training partnership aims to LAUNCH members out of gangs

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- Charles Stewart sees cooking for the Bistro at the Beth, the Bethlehem Community Center in South Chattanooga's Alton Park neighborhood, as more than a job. "It helps me to learn how to help other people," he says.

The 'life lessons' come straight from the boss. "He's the type of guy, like, he'll pump you up about life," Stewart says. "I hope that these days, young guys can look at him as an example."

Charmaine Goins came on the scene after spending fifteen years in gangs and prison. "It takes a desire to change," Goins says. "And, knowing what I need to do to change."

But one obstacle was obvious. "Most of the larger employers will not hire somebody with a felony," says Hal Bowling, director of LAUNCH, a program to train entrepreneurs based out of the Beth.  "What we always tell people, is, if you can't find a job, create one."

Goins now lectures in the program that launched him. LAUNCH's courses in entrepreneurship meet Tuesdays and Thursdays, in afternoon and evening sessions. They cost $100.

"We want everybody to have some sort of skin in the game," Bowling says. "But they get a lot for a little. We provided Charmaine all the support he needed."

Classmates compete for seed money. Goins received $10,000 to help get the Bistro going.

LAUNCH also offers courses at Howard and Tyner High Schools. Students get class credit, and a door open to opportunities.
"Charmaine can deliver a 'street cred' that these teenagers respond to," Bowling says.

"But anybody who wants to help, can," Goins says. "They don't have to look like me."

"We need mentors, we need people who will speak to us," Bowling says.  "That's a very short time commitment."

"Almost every gang member who was interviewed explained that gang activity was the most immediate way of satisfying their material and emotional needs," concludes the Comprehensive Gang Assessment, a recent study that the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies and the UT-Chattanooga Center for Applied Social Research compiled for Chattanooga's Gang Task Force.

"It is critical that community stakeholders -- especially the business community -- create innovative programs that give ex-offenders a real second chance," the study continues.  "If returning offenders cannot be plugged into mainstream society, they are likely to sabotage ongoing prevention and intervention efforts."

Goins is blunt about who needs to "step-up" to stop gang recruitment and gang violence. "The churches need to be more of a voice. The parents in the homes need to be more educated and motivated," he says. "I need to take a greater stand. You need to take a greater stand."

To find out more about LAUNCH, donate money, or volunteer expertise: www.launchchattanooga.org

To read the Comprehensive Gang Assessment: www.thefutureisours.net

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