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Keeping city's rec centers open longer seen as good step to curbing violence

But CRC head says teens won't come unless they're fun, safe
Posted at 8:36 PM, Jul 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-16 20:43:04-04

 CINCINNATI — Teens think the idea of opening the city’s rec centers for more hours is a good step toward curbing the gun violence that has plagued the city this summer.

But the head of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission says they’ll have to do more than just keep the doors open longer.

“We don’t want any teen waking up having the mentality of, ‘Am I going to be next?’” 15-year-old Bakary Djuma said at the Evanston rec center Tuesday night.

He was there for the second of Councilmember Tamaya Denard’s Gen X meetings to discuss ways to stop the violence.

With 23 rec centers in Cincinnati, some say they can be a safe haven for kids and young adults.

“And makes sure they are in an environment that doesn’t allow them to see any of those drugs or gun violence,” said 14-year-old Trisha Puthenpurackal.

It’s why Councilmember PG Sittenfeld is pushing to extend hours at rec centers in crime hot spots.

"So instead of getting pulled bad influences, they have a positive outlet,” Sittenfeld says.

Of the nearly two dozen rec centers, only a handful are open - with limited hours - on Saturdays, and none are open on Sundays. A majority close by 7 or 8 p.m. during weekdays.

Sittenfeld said the funding is available.

“Is it worthy to deploy funds for this cause? I think absolutely,” Sittenfeld said. “Again, we’ve had the deadliest June that we’ve ever had seen in this city on record - 14 homicides, 41 shootings. So the money is there to do it if we make it a priority.”

But CRC Director Daniel Betts says just extending the hours isn’t enough to bring in teens.

“We can’t just open the building and expect youth are going to walk in our doors because the building is opening. We’ve got to create these spaces as being inviting, clean, fun, safe,” Betts said.

Betts supports the longer hours. In fact, the commission was already working towards doing that this fall. But Betts says having an engaging program is a must.

“When young people walk through those doors, there’s got to be passionate people around that know what it means to create programs and program activity for young people,” Betts said.

Other ideas may come out of Tuesday’s Gen Z meeting, as well as from other forums held by city leaders.