Fort Myers community groups working to prevent youth violence

Reporter: Michael Hudak Writer: Joey Pellegrino

The Fort Myers City Council is expected to approve a new measure Monday spending millions to keep kids out of trouble and off the streets, thereby cutting down on gang recruitment and gun violence.

One of the major concerns in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 was building stronger relationships between the community and law enforcement. Fort Myers seems to be trying to follow up on that aim while at the same time providing alternatives for kids to be able to stay away from taking the wrong route in life. One local example is the Police Athletic League (or PAL) Center.

Keith White, PAL’s senior program coordinator, spoke about our local youth violence problem.

“I do think there’s a youth violence problem here in Fort Myers,” White said. “Getting people to accept that is going to be our key to actually combatting it. Some parents or kids say ‘Hey, I don’t want to be involved because it doesn’t affect me.’ But it does. It’s our city. So we all have to chip in.”

There has been firsthand proof of how successful this program can be at guiding young people down the right path. Austin Wilkins Jr. grew up in Fort Myers and went to the PAL Center all the time when he was a kid. He graduated from North Fort Myers High School and has just signed a contract to play football with the San Francisco 49ers. Watkins says that implementing these youth violence prevention programs saved his life and that it is crucial for the city to make decisions that support them on a regular basis.

“Because it started at 6 a.m. all the way to 6 o’clock [p.m.], so by the time you get home you’re already tired because you played all day other than just running the streets,” Watkins said. “And you build bonds with the coaches, friends… lifetime bonds.”

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