YouthUp, Inc. has begun holding monthly “Real Talk for Stronger Families” sessions as part of the Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) program.  Partnering with the Parks and Recreation Department, YouthUp is holding the sessions to foster more open communication for youth and their parents and grandparents to better find solutions to issues teens may be facing.

“We want everyone to have a seat at the table and to have a voice in improving our lives and our futures,” says YouthUp Executive Director Amanda Smith.

“It’s because of the direct outreach to families throughout our community by amazing nonprofit organizations that we had a 43% decline in our homicide rate,” says Mayor Lester Miller. “I want to thank YouthUp and all our MVP partners for working daily to create stronger families and better futures for our children.”

The sessions are open to the public, but space is limited, and registration is required. The next session will be Tuesday, April 16, at 6:00 p.m. at the Rosa Jackson Recreation Center (1211 Maynard Street). To register, email youthupmacon@yahoo.com or call 478-733-8602.

During the session, there will be food provided before the facilitators walk the guests through icebreaker activities, discussing the topic for the evening, asking about challenges the families face, and working together to find solutions.

The first session of “Real Talk for Stronger Families” was held on March 12 at the Rosa Jackson Center. During the session, parents and their teens discussed the challenges of peer pressure and shared tips on finding positive friend groups.

“It was a joy to see older teens offering support and tips to younger ones,” said Executive Director Amanda Smith. “Witnessing peer-to-peer mentoring in its purest form, not orchestrated by an adult, was most rewarding.”

After the session, four teens joined YouthUp’s Youth Leadership Council, where they will plan and implement fundraisers, youth rallies, and community cleanups. The Council is an elite group of teens who want to make a positive impact in Macon-Bibb through community engagement focused on nonviolent resolution to conflict. They also attend other community events to encourage each other.

“We are deeply grateful for our partnerships with MVP, the Peyton Anderson Foundation, and the Parks and Recreation Department,” said Smith. “It STILL takes a village.”

YouthUp is part of the Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) program, receiving a $20,000 grant from Macon-Bibb County through the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. This is their first year in the program and the second year that grants have been awarded.

Though MVP is still fairly new in its implementation, it has already helped the community realize significant results in becoming safer. From 2022 to 2023, Macon-Bibb had a nearly 43% reduction in homicides, from 70 to 40. The reduction in homicides for children (those 18 years old and younger) went from 15 in 2022 to 5 in 2023 – which is a 66.7% reduction in just one year.

“I want to commend all of our partners for their dedication in seeing this work through for years to come, as this will take long-term solutions to continue making our community safer,” adds Mayor Miller. “Whether it’s granting community organizations the funds they need or providing free mental health services or removing blight from our neighborhoods or increasing law enforcement technology…we are doing everything we can to improve public safety.”

While other cities in Georgia and around the country also had a decline in their homicide rate, Macon-Bibb County’s 43% far surpassed them. Atlanta had a 21% decline, Columbus a 12%, Savannah a 13%, Mobile, Alabama a 21%, and Jackson, Mississippi a 14%.

About Macon Violence Prevention
Macon Violence Prevention is an evidence-based, multifaceted program created to address public safety in Macon-Bibb County. Supported and funded by the consolidated government, MVP is a community-wide effort that brings together elected officials, community leaders and representatives from more than 20 agencies, organizations and departments.

The MVP program operates under the guidance of the MVP Strategic Plan, which was introduced in June of 2021. Created by community stakeholders and violent crime experts, this strategic plan combines data and research with community feedback to implement proven solutions that reduce violent crime and strengthen the community over time.

The Macon Mental Health Matters (MMHM) team will host its monthly Wellness Weekend beginning, April 12, at 6:00 p.m. The three-day event is a chance for people to focus on improving their mental health through a variety of activities. All events during the weekend are free and open to everyone in the family. 

“With April being National Counseling Awareness Month, our activities are highlighting the many benefits of engaging in counseling!” says Andrea Cooke with MMHM. “These weekends help us reduce stigma and put greater emphasis on the deliberate efforts to make Macon the most mentally healthy city in Georgia.” 

Yoga in the Plaza is happening Friday, April 12, in Cotton Avenue Plaza (intersection of Cotton Avenue and Second Street) beginning at 6:00 p.m. You can bring your own yoga mat, but if you don’t have one, some will be available. In case of rain, yoga will be moved to the McEachern Art Center (332 Second Street).   

The next day, Saturday, April 13, the Pop-Up Gym will be hosted at the Bloomfield-Gilead Recreation Center (1931 Rocky Creek Road) from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., rain or shine. People will be able to consult with a licensed therapist, practice yoga and meditate, be part of a drum circle, get free produce from the Melanated Community Stimulation Project, and more.   

The final day – Sunday, April 14 – is the Healing Hike at 10:00 a.m. starting at the Wesleyan College Arboretum (4760 Forsyth Road). The hike will allow people to walk at their own pace to clear their mind and talk with a mental health professional, if needed.   

You can find more information on the MMHM website and by following MMHM on Facebook. 

“What choice can you make today that will have a positive impact on your life?” 

That was just one of the leading questions Najiva Timothee with the Girls Dig Deeper Initiative (GDDI) – one of our Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) partners – posed to a group of teenagers at a meeting of the Middle Georgia Regional Library’s Teen Advisory Board. She is meeting with the Board every fourth Saturday of the month to discuss topics related to Leadership Values, and this month’s topic was ‘choices.’ The sessions are open to any teen ages 13-17, and the next session on April 27 will focus on ‘character.’ 

“The girls were engaged and given the opportunity to share their experiences, and how they handle everyday situations based on the topic of the lesson,” said Ms. Timothee. 

“They also learned and understood the benefit and the concept that choice is a gift they have.” 

“We feel that leadership training is fundamental to providing the access to information and launch pad for our young talent,” says Jennifer Lautzenheiser, Middle Georgia Regional Library Director. “Our Library is here to improve the lives of our community, connecting them with our services, materials, and programs. We want everyone to have the tools they need to be successful.” 

“It’s very important to become leaders in our community, especially for young women,” Ms. Timothee told the assembled teens.   

“We need to make the best decision for ourselves and not worry what others will think [of us],” said Stella Blankenship, a 7th grade student at Miller Middle School.

“[Teens] should focus on what they can control and not everything around them,” said JaNyla Holston, a 10th grade student from Northeast High School. 

The group discussed the benefits of being able to make choices in their lives. That includes giving them freedom, they can change the direction of their lives, it gives them the power to reach their potential, they can take control of their life, and it gives them the power to make life better.  

“There are things you can and can’t control in your life, and while you can’t control the mistakes of your past, you can control what you learn from those mistakes and how you move forward,” Ms. Timothee told them. “The choices you make in life, make you.” 

From there, she asked the teens about their own experiences with making choices. The students talked about meeting new people at events and school, applying for Central High’s IB program, thinking about which college they want to attend, and exploring different career fields to determine their path forward. Nadia Thomas, an 11th grade student at the VIP Academy and member of the Girls Dig Deeper Initiative, congratulated them on thinking through those issues and encouraged them to have a relationship with their teachers and counselors to help them find their best path.  

“In high school and college, surround yourself with people who have the same mindset as you do, that want to be as successful as you do,” Thomas told them. 

GDDI has received $15,500 in grant funding from Macon Violence Prevention. In the first round of funding, they received $5,500 and in the second round this year, they received $10,000 to offer leadership development programs designed to help young girls overcome barriers such as childhood poverty, chronic absenteeism, poor academic achievement, disability, adverse childhood experiences and community violence.

About Girls Dig Deeper Initiative
Girls Dig Deeper Initiative is a girls group mentoring and youth development program in Central Georgia which serve youth in schools and communities, and incarcerated youth ages 13-17. They provide 1:1, group, and a team model mentoring approach within the organization.

Their mission is to foster guidance, support, and encouragement to all youth girls to dig deep within themselves to access their inner potential and expand their capacity to be a positive influence to themselves and others.

Girls Dig Deeper Initiative launched its leadership development program, The Winners’ Mindset, in January to teach youth girls to rise up and win regardless of the challenges they face.

About the Macon Violence Prevention Program
Macon Violence Prevention is an evidence-based, multifaceted program created to address public safety in Macon-Bibb County. Supported and funded by the consolidated government, MVP is a community-wide effort that brings together elected officials, community leaders and representatives from more than 20 agencies, organizations and departments.

The MVP program operates under the guidance of the MVP Strategic Plan, which was created in June of 2021 by community stakeholders and violent crime experts. The plan combines data and research with community feedback to identify and implement proven solutions that reduce violent crime and strengthen the community over time.

The Community Foundation of Central Georgia (CFCG) will open the application process for the third round of Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) community grants on April 1. Thanks to funding from Macon-Bibb County, up to $800,000 will be awarded to organizations to continue or start programs focused on violent crime prevention and aligned with the goals of the community-generated MVP Strategic Plan 

Organizations must submit an application by 12 p.m. on Friday, May 10, to be considered. Applications are available online at Macon Violence Prevention Grant Program. In addition to submitting a timely application for programming aligned with the goals of the strategic plan, all applicants must also participate in an orientation session by Zoom on Thursday, April 4, at 1 p.m. as part of the grant application process. The Community Foundation of Central Georgia will hold office hours during this grant cycle to answer potential applicants’ questions.  

“Thanks to the leadership of the Community Foundation, more than $1.6 million has already been invested in providing much-needed support and services directly to children and families all over the county,” said Mayor Miller. “I know that the MVP program is making a positive impact in Macon-Bibb County. Our overall homicide rate dropped by 40%, and the youth homicide rate fell by 67% between 2022 and 2023. We knew when we launched MVP in 2021 that we had our work cut out for us, and our community has stepped up to the challenge. We’re not about to stop this positive progress now, and I’m looking forward to hearing even more success stories this year.” 

“We are inspired and energized by the work of our first two rounds of community grant recipients,” said Kathryn Dennis, President of the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. “But, most importantly, we are seeing tangible results, such as a remarkable reduction in the level of violent crime in our community. We still understand that this work is a marathon, not a sprint, and we remain committed to supporting local organizations that have really stepped up to do the work.” 

The Macon Violence Prevention program began in 2021 when Mayor Miller brought together community leaders to address violent crime using evidence-based solutions. Based on feedback from 14 community forums and a series of community-wide surveys, these leaders developed the Macon Violence Prevention Strategic Plan. 

“From literacy programs to family counseling to mental health services to activities that teach problem-solving skills, we are seeing that these MVP programs do work and are, over time, helping to create a stronger, safer community,” said Mayor Miller. 

“From the beginning, we have recognized that this is a long-term effort, and we fully expect to build on the remarkable progress we’re seeing,” adds Kathryn Dennis. “This is the work our entire community needs to rally behind, whether it’s applying for a grant, volunteering with one of the organizations or finding other ways to be involved.” 

Organizations who are awarded funding during this cycle will be announced the week of July 29.  

About Macon Violence Prevention
Macon Violence Prevention is an evidence-based, multifaceted program created to address public safety in Macon-Bibb County. Supported and funded by the consolidated government, MVP is a community-wide effort that brings together elected officials, community leaders and representatives from more than 20 agencies, organizations and departments.  

The MVP program operates under the guidance of the MVP Strategic Plan, which was introduced in June of 2021. Created by community stakeholders and violent crime experts, this strategic plan combines data and research with community feedback to implement proven solutions that reduce violent crime and strengthen the community over time. 

TOP