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Penn North Residents Welcome Youth Advocate Programs’ Safe Streets Team

8/30/2019, 6 a.m.
Penn North neighbors gathered for a back-to-school resource fair at Cumberland and Carey Park recently. Hosted by Youth Advocate Programs ...
YAP Regional Director Craig Jernigan (left) and Dennis Wise, Penn North Safe Streets Site Director. Keston De Coteau

Special to The Baltimore Times

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YAP Penn North Safe Streets

As Penn North neighbors gathered for a back-to-school resource fair at Cumberland and Carey Park, the owner of Will B’s Better Bodies, wanted everyone to know that the door to his gym across the street was unlocked. Anyone wanting to use the restrooms was welcome.

Will B, Better Bodies Gym owner

Will B, Better Bodies Gym owner

Hosted by Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., the resource fair was also a grand opening celebration for Baltimore City’s Penn North Safe Streets team. YAP is one of the city’s newest Safe Streets partners, overseeing the Penn North team.

“I refer to myself as a trench person. I work right here in the trenches; I live in the trenches. I used right around here in the streets in the trenches; I recovered in the trenches; I’m six years clean,” Will B. said. “I’m so excited about the help with this coming to Penn North— with Safe Streets and YAP— because I kind of felt like I was doing it by myself; well not by myself, but we just needed help and more resources.”

Dedra Layne, Baltimore Safe Streets Director

Dedra Layne, Baltimore Safe Streets Director

Baltimore Safe Streets Director Dedra Layne explained at the grand opening ceremony how Safe Streets works as a public health approach to reducing shootings and homicides in communities in Baltimore City. Safe Streets staff are men and women who were formerly justice-involved, which lends to their credibility and ability to establish relationships and build rapport to change behaviors and norms of individuals with backgrounds similar to theirs.

“I’m honored to be able to give back to my community; to connect people to resources and tools they need to find success for themselves and their families,” said Penn North Safe Streets Site Director Dennis Wise, who recently returned to Baltimore after spending 38 years in prison.

Wayne Brewton, Penn North Safe Streets Violence Prevention Coordinator

Wayne Brewton, Penn North Safe Streets Violence Prevention Coordinator

Wayne Brewton, who like Wise, spent nearly four decades in prison, looks at his role as Penn North Safe Streets Violence Prevention Coordinator as his opportunity to keep his neighbors from suffering the way his victims did and to keep youth from losing their freedom the way he did.

“When I was 17, I went to prison for murder,” he said. “While I was there, my sister lost her life to violence. I started a victims’ awareness program, and that’s what I brought back to my community, so I can help my community heal,” he said. “I want to share my story, to let these young guys know that you can overcome drug addiction, gangism, hustling on the street; because if you don’t, one bad choice can ruin your life forever.”

Penn North Safe Streets partner organization, YAP, is better known for its work with juvenile justice and child welfare systems as an alternative to youth incarceration and out-of-home placement. A Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) partner, YAP hires neighborhood-based advocates who serve as mentors to help youth identify and realize their strengths and connects families to needed tools and resources.

“As a Baltimore’s Penn North Safe Streets partner, we’re able to extend our brand of empowerment to more individuals and families, connecting them with health, financial, education and other accessible tools and resources. We can also help people find a way they can give back,” said YAP Regional Director Craig Jernigan, who grew up in Penn North.