May 18, 2009

Safe Teens = Safe Streets

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending Safe Teens = Safe Streets: New Jersey’s First Working Forum on Community Collaboration at the Mercer County Community College Conference Center. The conference was sponsored by the New Jersey State Library and developed in collaboration with a bunch of groups, namely the East Coast Gang Investigators Association and the New Jersey Library Association Urban Libraries Section. Check out the flickr.

From NJLA: The purpose of this one day working forum is to bring together legislators, county prosecutors, youth services commission directors, county social services board directors, educators, gang prevention professionals, librarians, and representatives of other community agencies serving children and their families, to develop strategies and a call to action to prevent New Jersey’s children and teens from joining gangs.

Gangs are a fact in New Jersey’s rural, suburban, and urban areas with gang presence growing in all areas. The State Library is sponsoring this conference in collaboration with several other agencies and organizations to raise awareness of the role that all can play in helping to fight the problems of gangs in our state. It is hoped that this working forum will present an opportunity for collaboration for the participants and provide a stimulus to the development of new ideas and strategies that can be presented to the Office of the Attorney General’s Prevention Coordinating Council.

Cool idea, and pretty well executed! There were a lot of great discussions going on and a lot of resources and methods being shared throughout various agencies.

What left the biggest impression on me was a 'break-out session' presented by the Ocean County Library System. The librarians of Ocean County, determined to unite their community in promoting the prevention of gang activity, involved a number of entities in their towns to create the meaningful and effective 'Gang Wise Project.' Gang Wise educates the audience about the history of gangs, warning signs, and offers advice to parents and teens about avoiding them. Working with the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Ocean County Youth Services Commission, NJ Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, NJ Superior Court Intake Unit Ocean County, Ocean County Health Department, Ocean County Municipal Alliance, and the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, the library pooled together the area's collective knowledge and support to make citizens aware of what's going on - and how to deal with it.

I was really impressed by this program and not only because of the dedication and meticulousness of the library staff. Libraries are not alone - there are other agencies working towards the same goals as we are. We must collaborate with other organizations to accomplish these goals whether they are about providing education or recreation. Yes, we could do it alone. But it isn't a matter of being a one-stop shop. It's about providing superior services. Use other organizations as resources, as means to amelioration. Build community.

Stepping outside the library is now an intrinsic part of being a successful librarian. Ocean County Library System's Gang Wise Project is a model of collaboration I would like to duplicate some day.


Lisa said...

Sounds like a great forum. Collective knowledge - that's what it's all about :-)

Kelly said...

What a cool organization for libraries to be a part of. I never would have made the connection myself, but it's brilliant!