TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators John A. Girgenti and Nicholas J. Sacco which would establish a State grant program in the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for youth mentoring programs was approved by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee today by a vote of 4-0, with one abstention.
“Given the almost constant exposure to violence and massive levels of peer pressure kids face growing up in today’s society, it’s not really a surprise that many kids are making bad decisions, the repercussions of which will haunt them for the rest of their lives,” said Senator Girgenti, D-Passaic and Bergen, and Chair of the Law and Public Safety Committee. “Youth mentoring programs, which direct kids to more productive and positive avenues for their talents and interests, play such an important role in encouraging kids to avoid mistakes that could lead them to prison, or worse. New Jersey must support these programs that support our kids, and help keep at-risk kids on the right track.”
The bill, S-1606, would require the Commissioner of Community Affairs, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, to establish a program to provide grants to organizations throughout the State that provide youth mentoring services. Under the bill, “mentoring services” is defined as a program administered by a duly-incorporated non-profit organization in which persons provide advice, support, opinion or instruction to others under the age of 21 in an effort to direct their judgment or behavior in a positive manner.
“Too many of our kids are left without direction, and sometimes even good kids can be lead down the wrong path,” said Senator Sacco, D-Hudson and Bergen, and a member of the Law and Public Safety panel. “Youth mentoring programs give at-risk kids the guidance and support they need to be able to avoid bad choices which might carry a lifetime of consequences. On a State level, we need to encourage and support these programs, because we’re going to pay one way or the other – either through youth mentoring or the cost of imprisonment in the State’s Correctional system.”
The grant program would be administered by DCA, with preference given to organizations providing mentoring which is specifically focused on offering youth alternatives to membership in or association with criminal street gangs. The two lawmakers noted that youth mentoring is an important part of State efforts to fight the spread of gangs in urban and some suburban communities, where many times kids feel they have no choice but to join in the gang lifestyle to fit in.
“If you talk to former gang members, so many of them often point out that, if only they had someone showing them an alternative, things might have turned out differently for them,” said Senator Girgenti. “Kids are enticed into gang life because they can’t see any other options, or face immense peer pressure without guidance in how to handle that pressure. Youth mentoring can be an invaluable tool in keeping kids safe from gang violence and can help in reversing the disturbing trend in increased gang membership among our State’s most vulnerable at-risk kids.”
“Gangs are inherently predatory, preying on the insecurities, doubts, and desire to belong felt by almost all kids at one point or another growing up,” said Senator Sacco. “We need to give our kids alternatives to a lifestyle of violence and crime, and hope and pray that they make the right choices. I think if our State’s kids know that there’s something else out there, other than life in a street gang, they will be more inclined to avoid the trap of gang membership, and grow up to be well-adjusted, productive members of society.”
The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.