Cheers and applause erupted from the Ketchmore family as Newport News city leaders called out their organization's name.
Ketchmore Kids was one of 19 community-based programs to be awarded a total of $1.78 million in grant funding by the city Tuesday following the preliminary findings of a citywide survey aimed at understanding and preventing gun violence.
"We were born and raised in Newport News. These are communities that we have walked through, that we have played in, so we have a commitment to give back. And this makes it possible for us to do that," said Chanell Ketchmore, founder of the nonprofit.
Dozens of community members gathered at the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center as part of the Gun Violence Intervention Program, the city's multi-pronged approach to combatting gun violence, which Mayor McKinley Price said is a "preventable public health crisis."
"Today's announcement of how our city is moving forward to continue to address gun violence comes after a somber weekend in Hampton Roads," Price said, referencing three weekend shootings, including one that left two people with injuries in Newport News. "Enough is enough. We must come together to invest in sustainable solutions, and we have to reach our young people early before they see guns and see violence as the only options."
The 19 organizations were awarded varying amounts based on the results of a citywide survey of approximately 2,000 residents, which found that nearly 60% of the respondents were concerned about losing someone to gun violence or being shot themselves. The city partnered with Christopher Newport University's Center for Crime, Equity and Justice Research and Policy to conduct the survey.
According to the survey's preliminary findings, people identified mental health concerns, poverty and unsupervised youth as the biggest problems in their neighborhoods. Homicides were seventh on the list, with approximately 23% of respondents identifying them as a big or very big problem in their neighborhood. The university will release the final report later this summer.
Ketchmore Kids will receive nearly $94,000 to support a six-week conflict resolution program for Newport News youth and young adults. Participants will be taught communication and positive socialization, as well as the importance of making positive life decisions, in an effort to prevent gun violence.
"This is something we have been doing even if we did not have funding. We have had to pull a lot out of our own pockets. But having these resources will help us really step up to the plate to make this a consistent, stable program," Chanell Ketchmore said.
Boxing 2 Live, a nonprofit mentoring program that targets the physical and mental fitness of teenagers, received nearly $100,000 to expand its existing program to reach more youth. Founders Lamont and Nikki Finley are working to bring their program to two Newport News magnet schools in an effort to more than double its impact from 25 students to 50-100 students at one time.
"If we can get to our young people early, we can show them there are alternatives to violence," said Lamont Finley.
While Boxing 2 Live was founded five years ago, the Finleys said they were motivated to reach more youth after the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Devon Carter in January 2021.
"He was family. But his life is not in vain. That is what drives us. Hopefully we can reach more young people and we can tell his story in hopes that they take something from it. If you surround yourself with individuals who are producing or are involved in negative actions, that can impact you," Nikki Finley said.
Ketchmore Kids program manager Troy Ketchmore, who said he was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder in 1995, spoke to the importance of local organizations having the funds to continue community efforts and direct kids away from acts of gun violence like the one he was involved in 26 years ago.
"If these programs were around and grabbed a young Troy, it would have shaped me for the better and given me a different way of solving problems," Troy Ketchmore said. "Programs like this are how you usher in a new culture."
A complete list of the selected organizations and the grant funds awarded can be found on the City of Newport News website.
Caitlyn Burchett, 727-267-6059, email@example.com