Union County, NJ – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is pleased to announce that Christopher’s Program, which helps at-risk youths avoid gangs and gang-related violence, has recently been awarded the prestigious Community Change Award by the 2010 New Jersey Black Issues Leadership Convention. The program was selected from hundreds of applications submitted throughout New Jersey.
Union County Freeholder Nancy Ward spearheaded the development of Christopher’s Program, which was named in honor of Christopher Booker, who was brutally murdered by gang members on Thanksgiving weekend ten years ago. It is part of the 2010 Freeholder Chairman’s Initiative, “Helping People.”
“The death of Christopher Booker opened my eyes to a world that, ten years ago, I knew nothing about – the presence of gang violence in the State of New Jersey,” said Freeholder Ward. “After much searching for answers, I did indeed gain knowledge about organized gangs, their history in New Jersey, what was being done to combat this growing epidemic, and most importantly, what more should be and must be done.”
Before Christopher’s Program, Freeholder Ward initiated numerous two-day gang prevention programs in Union County.
“The experience made it apparent to me that a permanent, continuous and more expansive Union County program was needed in order to quash the ongoing recruitment of our young people into organized gangs,” said Freeholder Ward.
Christopher’s Program went into operation earlier this year, through the Union County Department of Human Services. It consists of interactive sessions with trained speakers, experts and agencies in New Jersey, dealing exclusively with the topic of gangs and youth violence.
Participants are selected at the discretion of the Union County court system, Probation Department and Juvenile Detention Center. Each participant attends the program twice weekly for six consecutive weeks. An alternative schedule of one session weekly for twelve weeks is also under consideration. Sessions are held in the Detention Center or at three community locations for those who are on probation or home confinement.
Christopher’s Program is also available to all Union County school districts upon request, and accepts referrals from local community agencies. Christopher’s Program also includes a professional development and community education component that serves to enhance community awareness and community education regarding the topic of gangs and youth violence.
“Christopher’s Program is unique in that the partnership between the court system, the Department of Human Services and our communities will now allow us to reach thousands of additional youths in the years to come who stand at imminent risk of joining or staying in organized street gangs,” said Freeholder Ward.
The New Jersey Black Issues Leadership Conference Community Change Award focuses on locally-initiated programs that work toward reducing disparities in economic opportunity, education, health and human services, and law, justice and public safety. Christopher’s Program was recognized for its innovative approach and for its potential to be adapted for use in different settings, and in other counties throughout New Jersey.
“I am confident that the continued partnership of our Union County government, our court system and our Probation Department will serve to greatly reduce the cycle of recruitment of our young people into gang lifestyles going into the future here in Union County, while also serving as a model program for other counties in New Jersey,” said Freeholder Ward.
For more information on Christopher’s Program, schools and community organizations can contact Bonnie Herrmann, Union County Department of Human Services, firstname.lastname@example.org or 908-527-4800
For more information on any Union County press release, please contact Sebastian D’Elia, Communications Director for the County of Union, or a designee listed at the top of this press release. Please join the County of Union online at www.ucnj.org on Facebook at www.ucnj.org/facebook and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/countyofunionnj.