With each subsequent tragedy in Washington County, more and more residents are forming community groups pushing for the violence to end.
These groups, whether it be CommUNITY or the newly formed Stop The Violence, have the same goal, but are now discovering how working together is making them a stronger force to improve their neighborhoods and reach out to the area’s troubled youth.
That was evident Saturday afternoon for the Stop The Violence community picnic at Washington Park that attracted hundreds of residents and a dozen different organizations.
The event, organized by the family of Vincent Kelley, who was fatally shot last June while trying to stop a bank robbery in South Strabane Township, was designed to be kid-friendly with activities, games and food.
“We’re trying to show the community that there are positive things to get involved in,” said John Kelley, a brother of Vincent Kelley. “We’re trying to get everyone working in a circle together.”
Pam Kilgore, a member of the CommUNITY group that started after the killing of Washington & Jefferson College football player Timothy McNerney in October 2012, said the picnic is a good first step to get all of the major groups involved. She said they’re working to “break down invisible walls” between neighborhoods and organizations to accomplish a common goal.
“Working separately is far less effective. The CommUNITY group is a facilitator to have a conversation to make progress,” Kilgore said. “This is awesome seeing all of these groups coming here to join together.”
Kilgore said the marches, such as the one immediately following the shooting death of Ta’Niyah Thomas in March, are moving experiences for grieving residents. But the actions those residents take by becoming involved to promote changes are even more important.
The picnic also attracted statewide groups, including Cease Fire PA, and some from the Pittsburgh area, such as Justice for Baby Marcus.
Each organization offers different community leaders with their own perspectives on how to make improvements, Kilgore said.
That was the sentiment held by Alexandra Brooks, of Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania, as she stood next to Kilgore outside the park’s main pavilion before a group prayer started the afternoon’s events.
“We all are starting to utilize each other since there’s no point trying to recreate the wheel,” Brooks said. “I think people are fed up and want to stand together.”
Although circumstances surrounding each death are different, Suzanne Kelley, who was Vincent Kelley’s sister-in-law, said the tragedies affect relatives and the community the same way. A banner with photos of more than a dozen victims of violence hung at the pavilion to show the faces of those who have died in recent years.
She said they’re hoping to reach out to the area’s youth before they turn to street crime or violence.
“We’re trying to get these kids to know that violence is not the answer,” Suzanne Kelley said. “Just walk away.”