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Community leaders, White House official stress cooperation, funding to address youth violence in Scranton

Maureen Maher-Gray of the NEPA Youth Shelter gives a tour of the center to Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti and Tom Perez, senior adviser and assistant to President Joe Biden and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Aimee Dilger
/
WVIA News
Maureen Maher-Gray of the NEPA Youth Shelter gives a tour of the center to Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti and Tom Perez, senior adviser and assistant to President Joe Biden and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

From increasing mental health services to hiring more minority teachers, improving the lives of the region’s youth can’t be done alone – or without funding.

Municipal and nonprofit leaders gathered at the NEPA Youth Shelter on Tuesday. Tom Perez, secretary of labor under President Barack Obama, joined them. Perez now serves as senior adviser and assistant to President Joe Biden and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

As part of the “Investing in America” tour, Perez visited local businesses in the morning to see the impact of federal funds. He sat down with community leaders in the afternoon to discuss youth engagement and violence prevention.

“We know with the pandemic, it wreaked havoc for so many youngsters who are already struggling pre-pandemic, and really fell off a cliff to be blunt, during the pandemic. And we're helping them get back on their feet,” Perez said. “And I know I'm inspired to be here to see what everyone's doing.”

Scranton has already allocated federal funds for GED programs and new initiatives for at-risk youth. The NEPA Youth Shelter used its allocation on a down payment for a three-unit building that will eventually provide emergency housing for young adults ages 18 to 21.

In the wake of gang-related violence in Scranton, including the January shooting of Scranton Police Det. Kyle Gilmartin, numerous groups have come together to seek solutions.

Those solutions involve more than law enforcement. Mayor Paige Cognetti has proposed reallocating $580,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to address ongoing concerns about community violence.

“It's about connecting them to those resources, putting the adults in their lives that they can trust, and they can look to for services, for hope, for inspiration,” the mayor said. “We want to make sure that we're really providing a foundation under our kids… We know not every family has all of the means to have a parent home all of the time. We need to make sure that we're trying to solve for that.”

Scranton School Board President Ty Holmes stressed the need for additional state funding for the school district. He also wants to increase efforts to attract minority educators to the city.

Rashida Lovely, director of operations for the NEPA Black Chamber of Commerce, said affordable housing and more mental health support must be priorities.

As discussion ended at the NEPA Youth Shelter, Maureen Maher-Gray, the center’s executive director, thanked the visitors. Up to 40 teens visit the center after school, and she had work to do. Maher-Gray planned to make breakfast for dinner– a feast of French toast and sausage– for the teens who had gathered.

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org