MANSFIELD, Ohio--The Mend Mansfield Coalition is not intended to just give voice to the message to end violence in Richland County; the coalition is also intent on bringing agencies and individuals together to take action.
“This coalition cannot do anything unless its partners come together,” said organizer Rev. Derek Williams at a coalition meeting Tuesday.
“We all are in this coalition together to fight against drugs, to fight against violence,” said Williams. “It takes all of us…It takes every last one of us to come together for the concern of our children…We’re marching for the benefit of our children to have a safe, secure place to live.”
The coalition is planning a second rally with the theme “Each One, Reach One” for August 15 at 1 p.m. beginning at the Renaissance Theatre and marching to the Mansfield square.
Mansfield Senior High School cosmetology instructor Crystal Weese said she likes the message of the coalition but was concerned that it would also result in action.
“I work daily with a lot of broken children and Mr. Garverick and Renda (Mansfield City Schools Board of Education President Renda Cline) can you tell you, they’re saying 200 kids are homeless, it’s far more than that.
“We’re not even aware that these kids are homeless because they’re too embarrassed. They’re high schoolers; they’re sleeping on couches of friends and family. But we get a ton of kids who are stopping in the building early so they can go to our campus wear so they can get clean clothes, leave, and return back later. There are far more problems; so after we walk to the park, what is our real plan to help? Are we going to connect them with all of these resources? Will we partner with these families and figure out what we do to lift them out of it?”
“I love the marches,” Weese said, “but after that, this needs to be a community of action. That’s what I would like to see. What is our real plan for action?...It doesn’t matter what color we are. It doesn’t matter what our ages are. At the end of the day, we safe schools, safe communities, food, water, and clothing for everybody that we service.”
Williams responded that the concept of the coalition is unity. The organization provides a platform for conversation to move past conversation to take action.
Mansfield Police Chief Ken Coontz offered an example of how the coalition has already created awareness that resulted in action.
“There are several people in this room who I’d never met before and there are some resources that I was unfamiliar…For instance, I’ve never talked to the ladies from the Culliver Reading Center in my entire career, 22 years. Out of this coalition, we were able to meet and talk a little bit and then myself and Director Spon agreed to donate laptop computers to that center, somewhere between eight and 10 computers,” said Coontz.
‘What can we do in our community,’ as a police department? You have to find ways that are socially responsible….So within the police department, for those of you who don’t know what we do, what we do is try to reach out to the kids. No, I can’t reach and grab every single kid. Is there more we can do? Absolutely. But what are we doing? We try to give back to the community....Those computer--Drug money. We try to take the profits of criminals and put them to use in positive ways to pull kids off the streets.”
Coontz also noted the work of the Police Athletic League at Friendly House and the School Resource Officer (SRO) program at Mansfield Senior High. He said the SRO program doesn’t exist for law enforcement, it’s a mentoring role.
Mansfield Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance Youth Director Walter Thornton expressed concern for the needs of community youth.
“Their parents are yelling at them; they’re homeless; they’re feeling like they can’t go to the principals…They don’t know what to do. They’re being bullied at school. My boss today found a little white girl sleeping in her car outside our store--sleeping in her car. She had no place to go, her parents put her out because they didn’t like the way she was doing things. To be quite honest, she’s pregnant with a black man’s baby. They put her out. These are some of the things….I got an eight-year-old kid who had a knife pulled on him at school…,” said Thornton.
He described some of the youth programing that is needed. He said the ministerial alliance has basketball, track and football programs that need the investment of time and funding. He said they need, for example, $25 to sponsor individual youths for athletic programs.
“Other cities support their youth. We do not get the support we need at the youth division,” he said. He is working to make the youth program at Friendly House free for every student. “We have to give these kids hope,” he said.
The coalition is planning a book bag give-away to local students. Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker said $3,000 will be designated for the book bags. More donations are welcome, not only for the book bags, but also for food at the August rally.
Additional topics of discussion included cleaning up communities, cultural diversity training, community building, and creating positive relationships between youth in the communities and law enforcement.
Attending the meeting were citizens and representatives of various agencies, churches, and government positions. Some of the representatives of different organizations at the meeting included Mansfield Police Chief Ken Coontz, Mansfield city councilman Don Bryant, Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker, Ontario Mayor Randy Hutchinson, Richland County Prosecutor Bambi Couch Page, Mansfield Law Director John Spon, North End Community Collaborative Director retired Col. Michael Howard, Mental Health and Recovery Board Director Joe Trolian and Mansfield City Schools Superintendent Brian Garverick.
The Mend Mansfield Coalition was formed in response to events that occurred March 29 and 30, incidents that sent four individuals to the hospital for gunshot wounds.
They also have a Facebook page.