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UniteFW.com targets youth violence and gang activity in Federal Way

A website geared toward steering youths away from violence and gang activity has launched in Federal Way.

UniteFW.com is the latest effort in attempting to address what city leaders classify as a concern, but not a full-blown problem. Gangs members live in the city, but Federal Way is not known to be home to any gangs. The website was started by the most recent graduating class of the city's Advancing Leadership (AL) class.

Advancing Leadership is a leadership building course offered through the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Annually, at the conclusion of the course, AL members brainstorm community projects, then vote on one to complete. The latest graduating class looked to the City of Federal Way for advice on a project that would impact the community, resident and 2010 AL graduate Kathryn Dunn said. The city was interested in educating residents about youth violence and gang activity.

"Our focus was really that we want to prevent (gang activity)," Dunn said. We're early enough that it's a matter of prevention. We don't want there to be an issue here."

United for a cause

UniteFW.com is designed to shed light on gangs and alternatives to youth violence. The site compiles information from organizations such as the National Gang Center to explain why some youths are drawn to gangs. It offers resources and contact information for regional programs created to serve at-risk youths. It explains how gangs can influence young people. It also encourages those visiting the website to get involved in Federal Way organizations that help direct youths in the right direction.

"The people that came up with the idea for the website really felt that if you're going to tackle an issue like gang prevention, the first step is really awareness," Dunn said.

The site encourages visitors to take an active role in shaping the future of Federal Way's youths by, among other things, becoming a mentor to at-risk kids, who are more prone to joining a gang, AL 2005 graduate Lori DeVore said. An hour a week can make a difference in a youth's life, she said. Having a positive role model helps youths make healthy decisions.

"How do we want our young people to behave 10 years from now, 20 years, 30 years?" DeVore said. "It's really looking ahead and asking, what can I do today?"

Gang concerns

Gang activity in Federal Way has been a topic of interest for the past few years now. UniteFW.com is not the first effort centered on gang and youth violence. In 2007, the city overhauled its graffiti code. First paint, and now a machine similar to a pressure washer, is used to remove graffiti, some of it gang related, from private and public property throughout Federal Way. In 2008, the police created a gang unit. The unit started following two shootings with gang ties.

This past February, the City of Federal Way hosted a gang and youth violence educational meeting. The idea originated through conversations between the city's Hispanic liaison and the Hispanic community. Representatives from the community at large, school district and several organizations serving at-risk youths participated in the meeting.

UniteFW.com is the first Federal Way effort to introduce much of the information presented at the February meeting to a larger population on a more permanent basis. But it can only be considered a preventative measure if youths and residents realize that gang activity could, at some point, become a problem if conversation about youth violence doesn't begin now, said Lori Santamaria, Advancing Leadership 2010 senior project manager.

"My hope is that it educates the community in an area that they may not have any knowledge," she said.

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