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'Youth Zone' seeks to prevent crime by offering young people other things to do

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Irmo Mayor Barry Walker Sr. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

IRMO — Irmo is preventing crime by getting young people involved in sports and learning activities, announced Mayor Barry Walker Sr., who hopes other communities will contribute to the effort.  

The program, designated the “Youth Zone,” has actually been underway for several months in the Irmo area and surrounding neighborhoods that are already starting to see a reduction in crimes committed by youth, he said April 2.

Its mission is to empower children living in affordable housing complexes by offering them a variety of academic and athletic opportunities.

The planning started after residents in Irmo’s Beacon Hill and other neighborhoods in the Harbison area complained about property thefts, break-ins and vandalism. Local officers investigating the crimes determined many of them involved local youth.

While increased patrols were considered, Irmo officials decided on a different approach — changing the habits of young people.

Walker and the Irmo Town Council delved into a plan to address the problems with the help of Dr. Akil Ross, a community leader who founded the nonprofit Heart ED LLC, an educational consulting firm. 

Ross, a former award-winning principal of Chapin High School, consulted with Walker and other community leaders and came up with the Youth Zone project.

It was formally announced at Harbison Gardens, a large apartment complex just off Columbiana Drive where some of the participants live. 

Harbison Gardens is just outside of Irmo, but Walker and other community leaders emphasized the program is not confined by city limits.

“Kids don’t know city limits," said Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Devine. “This is our community.”

Other community leaders at the announcement included Lexington-Richland School District board member Ken Loveless, who has personally donated $10,000 to the program, and Irmo Councilman Bill Danielson.

Other partners in the program include the Mungo Foundation, the Harbison Community Association, and the Rev. Alonzo Johnson and his Universal Outreach Church of God, which offers after-school programs. Daily bus transportation to the programs is being provided for students at Harbison West Elementary School.

There are 18 children in the program, which is geared up to take on as many as 80.

Much of the seed money came from HeartEd, LLC. The town of Irmo has contributed a portion and is hoping other municipalities impacted by the positive changes will contribute.

Donations are still being sought.

“We have a solution,” Ross said. “We just need to come up with the money.”

Walker expressed confidence about a project that now has so many supporters.

“It takes a village,” he said.

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