For Virginia Beach teens, Parks After Dark program offers ‘distraction from the bad stuff’ (2024)

VIRGINIA BEACH — As a group of teenage boys from Bayside split into two teams for flag football Thursday night at Williams Farm Park, De’Angelyna Clark, 13, stood on the sidelines with friends.

More than a hundred other children and teens played games, listened to music, jumped in an inflatable, enjoyed arts and crafts and gobbled up food with friends at the city-sponsored Parks After Darkevent.

“This is a place where we can all connect,” said Clark.

The free summer programaims to provide structured activity in an effort to steer young people away from violence.

The city launched Parks After Dark last summer and isback this year from 6 to 11 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. The event series is an initiative of Virginia Beach’s Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, and is modeled after a similar program in Los Angeles called Summer Night Lights, which city officials visited in 2022.

In Bayside, it’s working. Several of the middle school and high school children who attended Thursday said fights among both teen boys and girls have been an issue in their neighborhoods.

“This is a distraction from the bad stuff,” Clark said.

Kylan Rousseau, 12, agreed.

“It’s a safe environment for kids,” he said, adding he’d otherwise be at home playing video games.

For Virginia Beach teens, Parks After Dark program offers ‘distraction from the bad stuff’ (1)

Parks After Dark had a budget of $444,000 last summer, and about 12,000 people attended, according to the city.

This year, the program runs through Aug. 24. Plans are in the works to add Parks After Dark locations in Green Run and Level Green for summer 2025.

The City Council heard more about the program and other youth-related services at a meeting Tuesday.

The briefings came on the heels of a fatal shooting May 25 when police said a teenager opened fire into a gathering of people outside the Mount Trashmore Summer Carnival. Jeyani Renee Upshur, 15, died and an 18-year-old man, who is charged in connection with the shooting, was wounded. Police Chief Paul Neudigate said after the shooting that the majority of homicides in the city this year have involved minors.

Police Lt. Kevin Lokey, who oversees the department’s youth services unit, highlighted efforts to build relationships in the community and reduce juvenile offenses through Parks After Dark and other efforts.

Police officers, chaplains and patrol aides are present during the programming at Williams Farm Park throughout the summer.

Mayor Bobby Dyer said he requested the police update after speaking with other regional city leaders on a conference call last week about youth violence.

“Mayor Donnie Tuck of Hampton said the best thing any city can do right now is get your police chief and department up and explain what we are all doing,” Dyer said. “There are a lot of things going on that people need to know about, and I think that will give the public some comfort.”

Some crime in Bayside, including aggravated assault, larceny from vehicles and robbery tapered off during the hours of the inaugural Parks After Dark in 2023, compared with the previous summer, according to data provided by the police department.

The park events also provide job opportunities for teens and young adults who help run the activities through the city’s summer youth employment program. People ages 16 to 21 are eligible, and residents of the Bayside community are among those who have landed jobs.

“It’s great to be able to financially empower the young people you’re wanting to engage,” Tiffany Cowell, the city’s parks and recreation’s Youth Opportunities Office coordinator, said at the meeting. “It also gave the kids a chance to be part of the solution for their community.”

For Virginia Beach teens, Parks After Dark program offers ‘distraction from the bad stuff’ (2)

Councilwoman Jennifer Rouse, who urged the city to add Parks After Dark in Green Run next year, praised the initiative.

“Neighbors can get around each other and just be safe and laugh and have fun,” said Rouse. “It’s just incredible what those small opportunities can do.”

Michael Kirschman, parks and recreation director, said the city plans to recruit more community partners, including local restaurants and will seek grants to help cover the cost.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of where this can go in the future,” Kirschman said.

Many of the teens Thursday at Williams Farm Park said they participated in Parks After Dark last year and are excited to be back.

“Everybody comes out and enjoys football,” said Calvin Hammond, 14. “I love it.”

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, stacy.parker@pilotonline.com

For Virginia Beach teens, Parks After Dark program offers ‘distraction from the bad stuff’ (2024)

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