Norfolk’s new “Nighthawks” program will launch Friday for young adults in high-crime neighborhoods

By: Eric Hartley
The Virginian-Pilot, July 14, 2016

norfolk nighthawks article image

Bill Tiernan | The Virginian-Pilot
Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander during remarks Friday morning, July 1, 2016, after he was sworn in at City Hall.

NORFOLK

The city will start a recreation and jobs program for young adults tonight in neighborhoods that have seen increased crime.

“Nighthawks” will be aimed at people ages 18 to 25 – those most likely to commit violence, Mayor Kenny Alexander said. It will be on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., when crime peaks.

The program will be at the community centers in Huntersville and Berkley starting this week and at the Norview Community Center later in the summer, according to a city announcement.

The highlight and lure will be basketball, but people who come to play can also connect with job training and programs that deal with anger management and conflict resolution.

When young people come in to sign up, they’ll also be asked about where they work and whether they have high school diplomas.

Tidewater Community College will work with young people to get them training and credentials for jobs that pay well but don’t require four-year degrees, Alexander said.

Those include electrician, welder, pharmacy technician, dental assistant and cybersecurity jobs.

Opportunity Inc., a government-backed nonprofit workforce development organization, will pay to help qualified young people earn credentials.

Alexander said the city already has great services for children and senior citizens but hasn’t been able to reach young adults.

That’s especially urgent, the mayor said, given a recent increase in violent crime.

“We just can’t sit back and have no response,” he said.

Nighthawks will run through Aug. 27, but Alexander said he wants civic leagues and religious groups to help sustain similar efforts in the long term.

The mayor and City Manager Marcus Jones said they’re asking police officers to get involved, including as coaches and players on the Nighthawks basketball teams.

Parts of the program echo the “midnight basketball” leagues that drew national attention during efforts to combat rising crime in the early 1990s.

Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves said community centers and programs offered there give young people job skills and discipline – and can even save lives.

“It gives them somewhere to go that is safe, and it keeps them off the streets,” Graves said Thursday during an announcement of the Nighthawks program.

Norfolk also is considering extending regular hours at recreation centers, though details were not available.

Graves asked about longer hours for the summer during a late April meeting.

Rec centers normally close at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 6 p.m. on Friday; those that open Saturdays close at 4 p.m., and all are closed on Sundays.

“I mean, 4 on a Saturday gives kids from 4 until 8 or 9 when it gets dark to have nothing to do,” Graves said at the time.

Jones said this week that extended hours and new services won’t require new funding. He said the city has had extended summer hours in the past.

Alexander said young people – particularly those without high school diplomas – often don’t realize they have a shot at good jobs with some help.

“What is the alternative?” he said. “The alternative is what we have.”

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Eric Hartley, 757-932-7511, eric.hartley@pilotonline.com