WILKES-BARRE — For Alfonso Saba, getting involved with community outreach is a chance to use his own story to help root out crime in the city.
“I was one of those people committing those crimes out there,” Saba said. “I was in jail for a year.”
Saba and about a dozen young people from New Covenant Christian Fellowship Church in Wilkes-Barre are firing up an organization geared toward children and teens called Youth Against Crime.
Using outreach events, and eventually more consistent support programs, the group aspires to squash drugs, violence and bullying in the city.
Saba, 27, said he hopes the story of his own turnaround will help others to do the same.
“So, them watching me walk (in a new direction), I’m hoping it will inspire them to change,” he said.
Criminal activity persists in Wilkes-Barre, exemplified in numerous drug arrests and homicide investigations stemming from a record 13 deaths last year in the city.
Xiomara Campos, 28, said watching crime rates creep closer to their daily lives prompted the church group to seek a solution.
“Most of us grew up in this area,” Campos said. “We’ve just seen a lot of violence and we feel we need to take a different approach. I guess it just hits home for us.”
Tamara Seabrook, 28, said the next generation inspires her to pitch in and try to better the community.
“Many of us, we all have children of our own,” Seabrook said. “We want our kids to know there are better things to do.”
The group plans to start with a few one-time community outreach programs — it has scheduled a 5k walk and a carnival for this summer — and then develop further regular support programs, Theresa Tyler-Smith, the group’s mentor, said.
“We’ve got to find a way to gauge the response,” Tyler-Smith said.
Ultimately, the goal is to get more people into church on Sundays, she said.
The group hopes to team up with other local leaders including law enforcement and local churches to share ideas and have a greater impact.
The group uses Facebook to communicate and coordinate events, and during regular bucket fund drives that started last month get face-to-face with the community they wish to reach.
One member, Selena Brantley, said the group’s faith in God assures her they will succeed.
“First and foremost, we’re putting God first,” Brantley said. “If you don’t walk by faith, and you just walk for a cause, the cause gets lost.”
Brantley, too, has watched criminal activity increase, she said.
“When I first moved here (four years ago), I didn’t really hear much about crime,” Brantley said. “Over the last year and a half, two years, you’re hearing something almost every day. I think now is the time we take the city back.”