Christian Response to Preventing Youth Violence in Pennsylvania
The spectrum of youth violence categories ranges vastly from elementary school bullying to teen homicides. In a 2011 nationally-representative sample of youth in grades 9-12, 20.1 percent reported being bullied on school property in the preceding 12 months, and 16.2 percent reported being bullied electronically (e-mail, chat room, website, texting).  The effects of bullying include physical, social, academic, and emotional harm with bullying as a huge contributor to youth suicide. Furthermore, in 2010, 4,828 young people ages 10-24 in the US were victims of homicide—an average of 13 each day, 82.8 percent of whom were killed with a firearm.  Such youth violence has seen an upward trend in the city of Pittsburgh.
While many Christians complain about the youth violence issues in our city without actively becoming part of the solution, some local churches try to provide pastoral care through Christian youth ministries. However, more often than not it is limited to kids with ties to the church who already participate in the life of the church, which is not a significant sampling of youth at risk for violent offenses.
There are noteworthy Christian organizations throughout the greater Pittsburgh region addressing these issues head on through mentorship and afterschool programs like Homewood Children’s Village, the Pittsburgh Project, Bible Center Church, and Amachi Pittsburgh. Amachi Pittsburgh provides a youth mentorship and family support program for kids with incarcerated parents that boasts a 92 percent success rate of program participants avoiding the criminal justice system as juveniles and adults. Amachi partners with local churches in Allegheny County to acquire committed mentors, however there remains a significant mentor vacancy with many willing kids still waiting to be matched.
Another organization of note is “The Point” which serves the Parkesburg, PA, region near Philadelphia. It was founded in 2003 and is funded by local businesses, churches, and community leaders. Their mission is to provide after-school, weekend, and summer programs for at-risk and vulnerable youth in the area and provide a safe haven by addressing the spiritual, physical, emotional, and academic needs of the community through the hopeful message of the Gospel.
A few national Christian organizations with local presence provide more intensive programming such as Teen Challenge. They provide long-term “spiritual boot camps” for troubled youth within a system of extreme accountability while teaching personal responsibility.
What if local churches took personal responsibility to address the issues facing youth in their respective neighborhoods regardless of whether the families are involved in the life of the church? What if local churches partnered with other churches in more at-risk areas to be of assistance in addressing youth violence? What if more churches made commitments to successful prevention programs like Amachi Pittsburgh so that mentors would be waiting for kid matches as opposed to the current opposite? As Christians there are a lot of opportunities to get involved in preventing youth violence, the question always is, what are YOU willing to do?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2011. MMWR, Surveillance Summaries 2012; 61. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss6104.pdf.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010). www.cdc.gov/injury.
Kimberly Merrell, an MDiv program alumna of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, is the director of the Metro-Urban Institute at PTS.