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9 Investigates: The community efforts to stop gun violence among kids, teens

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Channel 9′s deep dive into the crisis of kids and violence in our community is turning from the causes to solutions.

Our Allison Latos took a look inside the efforts on our streets to stop shootings and save lives. Arresting kids and prosecuting them isn’t the only option. There are a lot of people pushing to have a personal impact on our kids, but the need for resources is rising.

Deondre Hill, now 24 years old, recounted his teen years to Latos.

“I carried a gun from here and there,” he said. “I was shot before.”

Hill’s past is peppered with problems -- from guns and drugs to run-ins with police. At 15, he skipped school and spent his days at the transit center in uptown Charlotte.

“That was the place where we made our money from selling drugs, maybe doing drugs,” Hill said.

But that was also where Hill first heard of The Relatives, a resource center for kids and youth in crisis.

“I’m evolving into who I’m supposed to be,” he told Latos. “Now I’m in college to be a mechanic.”

His is one of countless stories about kids who turned their lives around.

“I was stealing cars for a long time, doing drugs, trying to figure out who I am,” Amber Graves said. “I was facing five years,” she said.

The Relatives helped Graves turn her life around too.

“When someone can see something inside you that you can’t see yourself...The Relatives enrolled me back in school and drove me to school,” she said. “I am not who I used to be, I’m still growing.”

According to the latest Leading on Opportunity Task Force report, there are 45,000 disconnected youth in Charlotte. Those are the 16- to 24-year-olds who aren’t in school or employed. The number of young people who The Relatives helps find housing, education and employment is rising.

In northwest Charlotte, the city provided $80,000 to members of the Alternative to Violence program to push back on problems there.

“Car theft, home invasions, selling drugs. What poverty produces,” said Leondra Garrett, an ATV violence interrupter.

Their strategies: To detect and interrupt conflicts, identify and treat individuals at high risk of involvement in violence and change social norms that exacerbate violence.

“We also target our houseless neighbors -- those who suffer from addiction, mental health issues and poverty,” Garrett said.

Josh Mahatha was a West Charlotte football standout.

“Basically running the streets, not going to school,” he said.

“It went to his head,” said Juan Hall with ATV. “His gift was his curse.”

Mahatha credits Hall and ATV with pushing him to earn his diploma.

“My dream was always to give a child a hug when they run a touchdown if they didn’t have anyone there for them,” Hall said.

“When I need someone to talk to -- money, anything -- he’s there for me,” Mahatha said.

The secrets to each of their success stories are invested, engaged adults who offer help and expect accountability.

“Seeing someone getting killed is not normal,” Hall said. “Carrying a gun is abnormal. We have to teach them the abnormal is not normal.”

The Mecklenburg Criminal Justice Advisory Group is launching a five-year strategic plan to reduce homicides and gun-related assaults by 10%. Its focus involves expanding behavioral and mental health access, mentoring and education for parents.

But from hiring more prosecutors and juvenile justice officers, to adding detention and crisis beds for kids, to more services for kids -- there always seem to be glaring obstacles: A lack of competitive pay and a need for funding.

Still, there is help if your child is in trouble and we’ve gathered a list of community resources for you. You can find that by clicking here.

(WATCH BELOW: Community addresses gun violence at back to school giveaway)

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