RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As students in Richmond near the end of the academic year, city leaders are highlighting summer programs aimed at engaging residents and curbing gun violence.

Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond Public Schools (RPS) Superintendent Jason Kamras, Acting Chief of Police Rick Edwards, Department of Parks & Recreation Chris Frelke and NextUp RVA Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Programs Jeanine Turner were in attendance for a news conference at Southside Community Center on Monday, May 15. The group touted new offerings, such as a late-night gym program at George Wythe High School and Fairfield Court Elementary School on Fridays and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., available to individuals between the ages of 15 and 20.

“They get to play basketball socially, and also be safe in a positive environment,” Mayor Stoney said. “This late night gym opportunity will be available starting June 9 and run through August 19. We also are exploring transportation options for those who need a safe ride home at the end of the night, as well.”

Acting Chief Edwards also mentioned the return of Operation Safe Summer “for the first time in years,” working with Virginia State Police (VSP) and federal partners. He said that the program will run from June 10 to Sept. 8, but declined to provide further details.

Monday’s announcements came amid recent instances of violent crime in Richmond, including a double shooting at Wythe High School at the end of April, an officer-involved shooting after a police chase during the first week of May, a shooting on May 9 in which a victim self-transported to an Emporia hospital and a deadly shooting at VCU Medical Center North Hospital on May 10.

“As we talk about gun violence intervention, the best thing to do to keep guns out of kids’ hands: put a ball in it, put a pin in it, put a camera in it,” Richmond City Council President Mike Jones said. “The one word you’ve heard here today is ‘investment,’ and that’s what we’ve done on Southside.”

Frelke said that the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation, in partnership with CarMax, would also be expanding its existing basketball program in 2023 to include a camp, as well as football and swimming pool offerings.

“Last year, we reached over 450 Richmond teens, and this summer, we want to reach even more by working with our partner organizations to ensure programs and events are easily accessible for community members,” Turner said. “These programs and events will promote positive youth development and disrupt the cycle of violence with youth violence prevention activities.”

Turner noted that more than $560,000 through the City of Richmond’s Gun Violence Prevention Initiative would be used to support summer camps, afterschool programs, parenting and mental health support, youth tutoring, mentorship, and community events.

Edwards was also asked about the future of Richmond’s Police Athletic League (PAL), a nonprofit from which eight board members resigned in April. According to its website, the organization is “dedicated to bridging the gap between Cops and the kids of our local communities through sports and engagement. PAL’s 2023 summer camp was canceled, with Program Director Perry Barber II noting that the organization would be issuing refunds for those who had already paid, with the hope of the camp’s return in 2024.

“We still have some of the programming, but we just need to get that new board in place,” the acting chief said.

Additional information about the summer 2023 program offerings for Richmond can be found by clicking here.