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Summer initiative to offer activities for families in Jacksonville's Grand Park area

Safe Place for Our Teens aims to reduce crime, foster unity

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local teenagers and families have a new option when it comes to summer activities.

Operation Save Our Sons partnered with several city and state agencies to develop a new summer initiative called the Safe Place for Our Teens, or SPOT.

It includes a series of events and activities for teens and families in the Grand Park area.

Community leaders said the initiative, which includes a series of events and activities for teens and families in the Grand Park neighborhood, is needed in the underserved area in Northwest Jacksonville.

"I've done too many funerals with too many children," said Bishop John E. Guns, with St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church. "To be honest, I'd rather see them play than see us bury them."

Community leaders, along with city and state agencies, hope to address the needs of families, as well as combat crime and youth violence.

Every Friday night, teens and families will be invited to the Johnnie Walker Community Center Grand Park Community Recreation Center, for some family fun, including book giveaways and basketball tournaments. 

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told News4Jax on Monday that it will be a safe venue and keep teens out of trouble.

"To keep them busy, they stay off of the street corners, they never meet a gang member, they never meet a drug dealer, so they never go down that path," the sheriff said.

Grand Park is no stranger to violence. A memorial with flowers and praying hands stands near the parking lot at the Johnnie Walker Community Center, where a 14-year-old was shot and killed in 2014. Earlier this year, there was a drive-by shooting at that park.

Williams said the SPOT will be a safe space for all families, with officers on site.

From 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. every Friday, beginning June 8 through July 29, the the SPOT will provide: free food, life skills training, a family fun zone, activities for children and teenagers, as well as community vendors.

The SPOT will be paid for through the city's parks and recreation fund and donors.