The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 7th

UNC initiative hopes to tackle youth violence in Robeson County

A first-of-its-kind initiative headed by the University will aim to address the increasing trend of adolescent violence in a rural county of North Carolina.

UNC researchers received a federal grant of $6.5 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to plan and carry out violence prevention activities.

The grant will also set up the nation’s first rurally focused youth violence prevention center, as well as North Carolina’s first center committed to preventing youth violence.

The five-year project will focus on Robeson County, whose economic downturn has led to a high level of youth violence.

“Robeson is one of the largest counties in North Carolina, and also the poorest,” said Connie Oxendine, the services program administrator for the county’s social services department. “We don’t have a lot of resources for our youth, particularly in the areas of substance abuse and domestic violence.”

The UNC School of Social Work, UNC Injury Prevention Research Center and various community partners in Robeson County are working to reach the goal of reducing youth violence in the county.

Paul Smokowski, the leading investigator in the team of UNC researchers, said the University beat out universities in Illinois and Michigan, including the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, for the center.

He said Robeson County, which borders South Carolina, was chosen as the grant’s beneficiary because of its ethnic diversity and struggles with poverty and violence.

More than 68 percent of Robeson County’s 129,000 residents are American Indian, black or Latino. The median household income in 2008 was $30,932.

The program will collaborate with community groups and focus on activities that enrich academic advancement, prevent violence, address family stress and enhance public school programming, Smokowski said.

“Our short-term goal is to create a youth violence initiative that will be implemented next year and evaluate that initiative to make sure it is efficient,” he said.

Elizabeth Knight, a research scientist in the Injury Prevention Research Center associated with the project, said a pre-doctoral fellowship is available for students who have a master’s degree in a social science discipline and want to assist with the project.

“Our long-term goal is to give the citizens of the county happy, productive lives, reduce youth violence and build some interventions to reduce violence,” she said.

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