YOUNGSTERS in Wokingham can look forward to seeing friendly faces thanks to the re-awakening of a street initiative.
Volunteers from JAC – Just Around the Corner – have started going out in the town centre on Friday evenings to greet teenagers who are hanging around parks. The aim is to engage with them and encourage them to make positive choices.
The initiative has been part of JAC’s work since it launched in Woodley 21 years ago but has been dormant in Wokingham for the past few years as it was felt that the need wasn’t there. However, a spate of vandalism and an increase in youngsters in the parks has seen a new JAC team, comprising volunteers from across Wokingham’s churches, walk the walk and talk the talk.
Wear red hoodies (pictured), they visit areas where youngsters congregate within walking distance of the town centre, and spend time with them.
They say that often youngsters carry out anti-social behaviour or drink or take drugs not because they are delinquents, but because they are bored and feel that there is nothing to do in Wokingham to occupy them.
Paul Jeffery, a member of Wokingham Baptist who is JAC’s Team Leader for the Wokingham town work, said that at the moment there is a team of eight heading out every Friday, but more are currently being trained up.
“Our work is very much aimed at young people,” he explained. “We are in parks and the town between 8pm and 10pm. We’re always willing and ready to have a conversation.
“I was doing this 10 years ago, but the need went away as youngsters stayed at home. Now, it’s turned around and the kids are back on the streets again.
“We have a whole new team of workers, myself and Chris Pape are the only ones from 10 years ago. We’ve been round all the churches and there are lots of Christians involved.”
Mr Jeffery said that the relaunch of the work had been a year in the making.
“We held a Churches Together in Wokingham vision day last year at St Crispin’s School. One of the outcomes was a desire to set up the street work,” he said.
“There are definite long-term benefits for doing this work. There are so many stories of people coming up to me years later and telling me, ‘You’ve changed my life’.”
He added: “We would love to expand our work, it’s just Friday evenings at the moment. We’re not sure what the demand would be for Saturdays as we’ve never been out, but with more volunteers we’re hoping to put two teams out there.”
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