Group makes efforts to help teens heading down the wrong path

CHARLOTTE — Teens wrapped up in a life of violent crime are often referred to Life Connections in Charlotte’s Optimist Park neighborhood.

“We provide diversion programs … if a young person is in something that ends up in a court situation, or they’re getting suspended for some reason,” said Chablis Dandridge, the director of operations at Life Connections.

Channel 9 has reported on young people involved in high-speed car pursuits with the police, car break-in sprees, and most recently a mass shooting in Uptown.

“When I see these young kids, I often at times see myself,” Dandridge said.

Dandridge uses his personal story of turning a lifetime of failures into something valuable.

“I started getting arrested around 16 years old and that persisted until I ended up in prison at 26 years old for 13 years,” Dandridge said.

That was after he suffered what would seem like a life sentence of being in a wheelchair.

“It always hits home for me because I was a victim of gun violence myself in 1995,” he said.

Dandridge said that sharing that reality with troubled teens nowadays doesn’t seem to have an impact, which could explain what’s going through their minds.

“I’ve never seen anybody say, ‘Oh wow. You know what? That makes a lot of sense. I’m not going to do this tomorrow,’” Dandridge said. “I’ve seen more people say, ‘You just got caught up because you weren’t being smart enough.’”

Counselors at Life Connections don’t believe in locking kids up and throwing away the key.

They believe the solution is to have programs that rehabilitate while they are in secure custody.

“Following through and following up with things that make sense to them,” Dandridge said. “They take their counsel from their friends, or things that they’re exposed.”

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Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.