Measure Would Create Grant Program in Department of Community Affairs
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Nicholas J. Sacco which would establish a grant program within the State Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to support youth mentoring programs Statewide was approved by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today by a vote of 4-1.
“If we’re going to seriously address the growing epidemic of gang crime in our communities, we have to provide meaningful alternatives for our children to help encourage them to make positive choices,” said Senator Sacco, D-Hudson and Bergen. “The State has a legitimate public interest in supporting youth mentoring programs, because they help keep the youth of New Jersey out of trouble and prepare them to be productive members of society. This bill is about directing New Jersey’s children away from crime and preparing the next generation of State and national leaders.”
The bill, S-445, would require the Commissioner of the Community Affairs, in consultation with the State Attorney General, to establish a program to provide grants to non-profit organizations engaged in “mentoring services” – defined as providing advice, support, opinion or instruction to persons 21 years of age or younger, in an effort to direct their judgment or conduct in a positive manner. The bill would be administered by DCA, with preference given to programs that provide youth with alternatives to membership in or association with a criminal street gang. The bill requires the Commissioner, to the extent possible to distribute grants equally to organizations in northern, central and southern counties, and to include programs in urban, suburban and rural areas.
The bill also stipulates that grantees would be required to issue an annual report to the Commissioner, detailing the number of participants in their youth mentoring program, hours of operation, regular program activities, and the number and qualifications of program staff, including volunteers. The information collected by the Commissioner via the annual reports would be used to evaluate future grant applications.
“In conjunction with an aggressive campaign to foster gang awareness and crack down on gang crime, we need to give children alternatives to the gang lifestyle,” said Senator Sacco. “The reason why so many young people find themselves drawn into criminal street gangs is that they feel they don’t have a choice, and depend on the gang as a surrogate family to help them survive on the streets. By supporting youth mentoring, we’re sending the message that there are better choices than joining a gang.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.