Violence prevention walks spread in Merced

07/29/2014 8:46 PM

07/29/2014 8:47 PM

An effort to curb violence by walking what some consider Merced’s most dangerous streets took another step toward expanding its efforts Monday.

About a dozen people met in a Loughborough Drive neighborhood to kick off the first weekly walk organized by Merced Ceasefire, according to the Rev. Don Ramsey, who has spearheaded the walks around the city.

The program is led by pastors and deacons and buoyed by volunteers who take two hours out of their week to snake along one of three routes in Merced.

Monday’s group had some new faces and some regulars, Ramsey said.

Weekly walks are already conducted near the Amtrak train station and south Merced’s McNamara Park.

The program has sought state funding in the past, Ramsey said, but was told it needed greater participation. Adding neighborhoods and volunteers to the list is a big deal because it could lead to grant funding. “When they go back out petitioning for the grant money, the possibility of acquiring it is a lot better,” he said.

Grant money could be used for more robust offerings, including gang intervention counseling. Ramsey said it also could pay for different types of law enforcement personnel, such as parole officers, to work more closely on programs for the group.

Merced Ceasefire was inspired by Boston-based Operation Ceasefire, an effort that dates to 1996. When in operation, Boston’s program reduced youth homicide numbers by 63 percent, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

A similar program in Sacramento saw shootings drop by 39 percent in the area walked by volunteers, Ramsey has said. Gang-related shootings decreased by 60 percent.

Those two programs included the types of offerings that Ramsey said he hopes to add with additional funding.

Relatively new to the effort, the Rev. Charles Cooksey will oversee the newest walks in the Loughborough area. The pastor of Bethany Church in Atwater, who has family in both Merced and Atwater, walked on the first night this week at the new location.

Cooksey said he believes in Ramsey and in the program, so he decided to get involved.

The challenge will be to keep people interested. “When you do something new a lot of people show up for it but they don’t (necessarily) continue to do it,” he said. “I’m hoping and praying that people will continue to come out and give us support.”

Some potential volunteers have expressed interest in helping with the walks, he said, but seem reluctant to walk the neighborhoods at night. Cooksey said Ramsey can’t do it alone. He needs the community support and volunteers to make it work.

Areas receiving attention on the weekly walks were selected by organizers with the help of Merced police Capt. Tom Trindad.

Adding services from a caseworker funded through grants could greatly benefit the program, Trindad said.

People in high crime areas who are leaning toward crime to pay the bills or for a feeling of belonging have a better chance of avoiding that with services that a caseworker could provide, he said.

An increased interest in the walks could go a long way toward encouraging donors to get involved. “(If) there’s a lot of interest and a lot of people willing to put in the work, then the money follows,” Trindad said.

In the meantime, he said, the walkers are showing those who live in the neighborhoods that “someone cares.”

Ramsey said turnout for many of the walks has been good and he’s optimistic about increasing interest. “It’s going to grow little by little,” he said.

For more information about the program, contact Ramsey at (209) 676-9824 or email feetchanginglives@gmail.com.

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