WILKES-BARRE — A few dozen people on Tuesday gathered to help organize and volunteer for the first communitywide get-together spurred by community reaction to a 14-year-old’s shooting death last April.
But many more volunteers are needed to make the “Community Callout” that the Building Bridges group is organizing for May 4 at Kirby Park a success, said Building Bridges co-founder the Rev. Shawn Walker.
Walker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilkes-Barre, said it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Tyler Winstead’s untimely death. Building Bridges was formed when the public still believed Winstead’s death was a random act of violence in a drive-by shooting. Investigators announced four months later that Winstead instead had accidentally been shot in the chest by his friend.
In the Building Bridges initiative, hundreds of community members met in groups over several months — with the aim of reducing violence among youth in Wilkes-Barre. They sought to identify the problems that lead to violence and the causes of those problems, then brainstormed for solutions.
“There would be no Building Bridges had there been no death of Tyler Winstead. It was the catalyst that caused this community to sort of cry out and reach out,” said Walker. “We said … that we couldn’t necessarily respond with just a march and vigil … but that we had to try to build something sustainable and impactful.”
The meeting attendees came together Tuesday to take the first step, Walker said.
“On May 4, we are having an event at Kirby Park to address one of the things we learned, which is we need an opportunity to connect,” he said. “We heard it over and over and over again last year: ‘We don’t know each other, I don’t know my neighbor, we don’t have opportunities to connect.’ What we thought is, that might be a good starting place.”
Volunteers aren’t naive enough to believe the event will eradicate complex issues faced in the community, Walker said. “But it certainly can provide us, as community, an opportunity for each other and our families to connect, and to provide something of value to our area,” he said.
Walker said he had asked community activist Darlene Duggins to organize the Community Callout because of her eight years experience organizing similar activities, such as community block parties that eventually grew and moved to Public Square in Wilkes-Barre.
Duggins went over a long list of areas in which volunteers would be needed. The event will feature activities for children of all ages, including a dunk tank, tug-of-war, dodgeball, kickball and more organized sports. There will be free food and refreshments.
Price Chopper employee Connie George attended the meeting with store manager Robert Buraczewski and said many store employees are interested in volunteering. Denise Thomas, an employee at GAR High School, said at least 50 students and 20 to 40 faculty members are committed to pitching in as well.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering should attend a meeting at First Baptist Church next Thursday to sign up, or, if they can’t make the meeting, call the church to learn more and/or volunteer, Walker said.
Shivaun O’Donnell, fundraising coordinator for Building Bridges, told the group that it’s difficult for community groups to make a meaningful impact and accomplish change without money. For that reason, Building Bridges is planning a fundraiser in August — a golf tournament at Blue Ridge Trail Golf Course.
Details on the tournament are pending, but O’Donnell said “community-oriented businesses that want to make a difference” will be needed as sponsors.