EAST HARTFORD — The East Hartford Youth Task Force will receive an additional $85,200 from the state for a program aimed at preventing violence among children and teenagers.
"Most kids, when you look at juvenile arrests, a lot of it is for simple assault, which means they get into fights with each other," said Cephus Nolan Jr., director of East Hartford Youth Services. "They may fight one day and then be best friends the next day."
One of the goals of the program, which started in October 2013 after an initial grant of $85,000 from the state Office of Policy and Management, is to teach children and teenagers how to resolve conflicts without violence, he said.
Some of the youngsters in the program have been referred by the Juvenile Review Board. Others have been referred by teachers or have signed up voluntarily.
State Rep. Jason Rojas, D-Manchester, said the money is part of $3.6 million solicited by the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus during the debate over gun control legislation. The caucus was concerned that the debate didn't focus on urban areas where there is gun violence, Rojas said.
Rojas said he and other members of the caucus talked to state leaders about prevention efforts.
"Why wait until we have an issue with youth violence?" Rojas said.
The first round of grant money funded seven monthly sessions at East Hartford High School, East Hartford Middle School and Synergy High School during the school year, where students worked on team-building skills with Youth Services staff and local police officers.
"The best part was the discussions between the officers and the youth. Many of the youth didn't know police officers and didn't have a relationship with them. By the end of the day, the relationship they were building were really amazing," Nolan said.
Forty students at Syngergy High School participated in a leadership program. There was also a group for girls and one for boys, from elementary school through high school, where they addressed rites of passage.
"The Boy's Council helps boys try to figure out what it is to be a man, skills they are going to need and to support each other," Nolan said.
The additional grant money will fund similar programs from July through June of next year, including an intensive three-day Adventure Plus program this summer that will involve dragon boat racing on the Connecticut River.
Nolan said his staff attended workshops in the spring on nonviolent communication by a group from Hamden. He said he plans to bring the group back in the fall.
"We're hoping they can come back and teach us the skills to teach students about conflict resolution," he said.