2024 All-America City – Newport News, VA

In Newport News, Virginia, a city adorned with world-renowned cultural attractions, museums, and vibrant performing arts centers, there’s always something new to discover. With 36 parks providing a tranquil escape within this bustling hub for military, manufacturing, technology, and research industries, Newport News offers a harmonious blend of urban energy and natural beauty. 

Newport News is actively tackling national issues at the grassroots level by prioritizing resident engagement in civic affairs. Through inclusive forums and dialogues, residents of all ages are empowered to participate in problem-solving and decision-making processes that shape the city’s future. 

Addressing the Gun Violence Epidemic  

In 2023, Newport faced a tragic incident when a six-year-old brought a gun to school and shot his teacher, prompting a resilient and unified community response. This event spurred city leadership to intensify efforts against gun violence, recognizing it as a national epidemic. 

A comprehensive Community Safety Assessment gathered insights from residents of all backgrounds to understand safety concerns holistically. Resident input was collected through bilingual surveys distributed by trusted local representatives in high-traffic areas and churches. The city also conducted in-person discussions and focus groups with youth in collaboration with public schools. 

The assessment unveiled significant challenges, including mental health issues, poverty, and barriers to accessing community resources. Grants were awarded to local organizations implementing programs targeting individuals at high risk of gun violence, addressing critical needs such as food security, vocational training, education, arts, housing, mentorship, mental health support, conflict resolution, and family relationships. Regular meetings are held with grantees to address inquiries and monitor program effectiveness.

Additionally, the city established a new community center, organized youth recognition events, and implemented immediate school safety improvements, mental health investments, and additional school staffing. Through community partnerships and engagement with marginalized populations, Newport embarked on a transformative journey to combat gun violence. 

Newport News Youth Justice Diversion Program 

Newport News believes that people should not be defined by mistakes made in their youth. This belief led city leadership to craft legislation allowing the implementation of a youth justice diversion program. 

In March 2023, the City of Newport News became the first jurisdiction in Virginia to operate a Youth Court, offering a restorative justice solution for early anti-social and delinquent behaviors. Young offenders (ages 11-17) are judged and sentenced by their peers, often resulting in community service, counseling, and restitution. The engagement of young volunteers in roles like defender, prosecutor, and juror facilitates learning, understanding, and dialogue. The only adult involved in this process is a practicing lawyer who acts as the judge. 

The success of the Youth Court has inspired other organizations to develop programs aimed at reducing youth recidivism. Volunteers of America Chesapeake and Carolinas (VOACC) used a city grant to create the PeaceKeepers program, focusing on individuals leaving juvenile detention by providing comprehensive workforce development support and trauma-informed case management services. 

Additionally, the Second Chance Act Youth Reentry Program offers wrap-around reentry services to youth exiting the juvenile detention center. Through Second Chance, youth ages 10 to 20 have access to mental health services, substance use recovery, education and employment services, transitional housing resources, and other social supports designed to set them on pathways to long-term success.

CARE: Addressing the Mental Health Crisis with Compassionate Support 

Newport News launched the Community Assistance Response (CARE) program to support those in mental health crisis and divert them from incarceration. A collaboration between the Fire Department, Police Department, and Community Services Board, CARE aims to reduce police involvement in nonviolent mental health situations. 

Law enforcement faces significant challenges in assisting individuals with mental illness. CARE allows officers to step back during mental health crisis calls, sending a team of a paramedic and mental health providers instead. 

When a crisis call comes in, the CARE team assesses the individual’s needs and provides interventions, connecting them with appropriate resources like hospitals or mental health providers. This approach prevents unnecessary incarceration and keeps incidents off records, preserving employment and voting rights. 

CARE collaborates with community organizations to raise awareness of available resources and address homelessness among individuals with mental health challenges by connecting them to support agencies. 

Newport News’ proactive investment in CARE reflects its commitment to saving lives and improving outcomes amid rising mental health issues. The program’s success lies in its collaborative, person-centered approach, striving for sustainable change in the lives of those it serves. 


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