Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis was inspired by a man who gained wisdom after losing most everything in life.
The two were chatting along a street in town when the man told Landis: “I used to sell drugs and the cops used to chase me all over.”
That decision, that lifestyle choice took away his wife, his children and his home. It could have been the end, but it wasn’t. The man was alive to share his story.
“It got me thinking,” Landis told a crowd of about 60 local residents Monday. “If that message could get out to some of the youth, maybe we would not have some of the problems.”
For Taro, the town hall meeting at Borough Hall was a call to action — a challenge for the concerned men of Carlisle “to step in and step up” in the hope of making a difference in the lives of troubled youths.
The chief guided the audience through an hourlong process where residents were encouraged to share views and brainstorm ideas on how to provide positive male role models to boys and girls who all too often grow up without a father figure at home.
Those gathered represented a broad spectrum of Carlisle, including civic organizations, local churches, neighborhood and community advocacy groups and the local school district. While most were men, there were a few women at what could be the first in a series of public meetings.
Taro asked participants for contact information. His hope is to develop a network to put structure and momentum behind the energy he felt in the room. Follow-up ideas included forming either a steering committee or a mayor’s commission tasked specifically with reaching out to youths.
“We can bring this together,” the chief said, adding that Carlisle already has “good people doing good things” such as feeding the hungry through Project SHARE or putting up the homeless overnight in local churches.
Much of the focus Monday was channeling youths to already existing after-school programs and the prospect of developing a mentorship program.
Carlisle native Gary Anthony Stackfield said he survived a difficult upbringing to become an ordained minister. His mother was a heroin addict while his father was a drug dealer who frequently spent time in jail.
While Stackfield spoke highly of a possible mentorship program, he posed questions on where it should be located within town and how it would be funded. Above all, there has to be volunteers willing to work hard to help the children find their self-worth, he said.
“We need to meet the kids where they are at,” Stackfield said. “The best gift you can give anyone is time and commitment. If you don’t have time and commitment, they [youths] are not going to take it seriously.”
Fred Jackson grew up in Carlisle at a time when the elementary schools in town all worked together within their grades levels to provide youth programs. Today, schools seem to operate separately within their neighborhoods at a time Carlisle needs to do more collectively to address crime and other social issues.
“I hope that we can connect the dots to make positive decisions and work together,” Jackson said before meeting. “It cannot be done by one group. We need everybody on every corner to help.”
Jackson suggested opening up program centers throughout Carlisle. He is a leader with the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church that started its own after-school program.
“At this point, any ideas would benefit the community,” said James O’Neal of West Pennsboro Township, a retired state police trooper with close ties to Carlisle.
“No one organization or one person can do it by themselves,” O’Neal said before the meeting. “Many people have to combine their efforts.”
Over the years, Carlisle has changed as outsiders have moved in with no relationship to the town. The result has been an infiltration of the criminal element into some of its neighborhoods, O’Neal said.
Dave Harper was raised in Carlisle by a single mother. His family received food stamps and welfare while the children were eligible for free and reduced lunches.
“The community took us under their wing,” Harper said, recalling how people encouraged him over the years to overcome his situation and learn from the experience.
Today Harper works as a teacher at a prison for boys and as the night instructor for an alternative education program offered at Carlisle High School. “Society has fragmented,” Harper said. “That makes it harder. But we are here and we are all in this together [so] it can be resolved.”
The key is to work the problems from many perspectives but with the same goal, Harper said.
Preston Stackfield, the cousin of Gary Anthony Stackfield and a community ambassador for the Carlisle Community Coalition, said that while it is great to have programs, success stories and messages that warn youths of poor choices, the goal should be to connect with youths and to establish relationships built on trust.
“I just can’t preach you a product,” Preston Stackfield said. “I have to get to know you before I can make a recommendation. You have to have a back-and-forth meaningful conversation or you are not going to have a buy-in [by a youth]. You have to make a connection with them first.”
Walter Bond is principal of Wilson Middle School, which hosts Girl Power, an after-school program geared toward female students. He invites civic organizations to come in and provide a program for boys at the school.
“The guys are yearning for attention,” said Bond, adding that few men are drawn to teaching positions in public education. It is not unusual for Carlisle-area students to go all the way through the eighth grade without having a single male role model in a classroom.
“By middle school, it can be tough for us to build relationships,” Bond said. “Their walls are up. … It takes time and a lot of consistency.”
The timing is actually good for the Carlisle community to launch an effort to help youths, said Rick Coplen, a Carlisle Area School Board member.
“Schools can be a centerpiece,” Coplen said. “We’re about to do a new strategic plan and hire a new superintendent. There are a lot of great programs. We have to find ways to tie them together, to fund and to fuel them.”
While the town hall meeting was geared to men, several women showed up to offer their insight.
Gail Parker said there are many families where older children are raising younger children. She felt the purpose of the community effort could be lost if the support that is offered does not carry over into the home.
Parker suggested Carlisle develop parenting classes or a parenting guild tasked with providing information to families. Landis said such classes could be coordinated through Hope Station, which already has something similar in place.
Posted earlier on Cumberlink:
Carlisle area men came out in force Monday to take up the challenge of making a difference in the lives of troubled youth.
Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis guided an audience of about 60 local residents through an hour-long town hall meeting designed to share views, brainstorm ideas and start a community conversation.
Those gathered represented a broad spectrum of Carlisle, including civic organizations, local churches, neighborhood and community advocacy groups and the local school district. While most were men, there were a few women.
Much of the focus was on how to provide positive male role models to youths who grow up without a father active in their lives.
There were ideas presented on ways to better channel youth to already existing programs, along with the possibility of starting a mentorship program using volunteers screened by background checks. An overriding theme was how to make programs more relatable to youth.
Carlisle native Gary Anthony Stackfield came from a rough upbringing to become an ordained minister. “We need to meet the kids where they are at,” he said. “The best gift we can give them is time and commitment. If they don’t have that, they are not going to take it seriously.”
The end result of Monday’s meeting was the start of a network Landis wants to develop to put structure and momentum behind the energy he said he felt in the room. Follow-up ideas include forming a steering committee that reports to Landis and Mayor Tim Scott or maybe start a mayor’s commission specifically tasked with reaching out to youth.
Check back to Cumberlink.com and to The Sentinel’s Wednesday edition for more information.