An effort is underway in South Jersey to combat gang and gun violence, an effort that could serve a model for other parts of the Garden State.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said authorities are teaming up with the state Juvenile Justice Commission, housing authorities in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland, school districts and faith-based groups to develop programs to help teach kids how to reject gangs.

Part of this effort involves implementing the Phoenix Gang Curriculum, a motivational program to teach kinds in elementary, middle and high school about self esteem and to appreciate their potential.

Webb-McRae said the effort is a combination of prevention and intervention. Children who don’t have strong family ties and structure are frequently more likely to join a gang, so part of the effort is to strengthen family supports by “enhancing mentoring and counseling services already available in the community, so kids don’t think gangs, guns or violence is the solution," she said.

Felix Mickens, deputy executive director of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, said this kind of effort is essential because popular culture glamorizes gang lifestyles.

“You want to get young people to believe there are alternatives to gangs very early on," he said. “We want to reach out to young people because we believe in them, we believe they can be productive members in our state."

Funding for the Phoenix Curriculum and other programs in Cumberland is coming from a three-year, $739,000 federal grant.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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