News Local/State

C-U Fresh Start Holds Third Call-In

Champaign barber and funeral director Seon Williams, flanked by Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin, Tracy Parsons with the city of Champaign, and Urbana Police Chief Sylvia Morgan.

Champaign barber and funeral director Seon Williams, one of the panelists who spoke to the participants in Thursday's C-U Fresh Start Call-In in Champaign Behind him (L-R) are some of the other Fresh Start panelists: Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin, Champaign Community Relations Manager Tracy Parsons and Urbana Police Chief Sylvia Morgan. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Nine young men with records of weapons-related offenses were presented with a chance for a fresh start in life, at the third C-U Fresh Start “Call-In” held Thursday night in Champaign.

In a meeting closed to the public, but open to the news media, the nine young men heard from law enforcement officials, community members who have lost friends and family to gun violence, and others ready to help the men turn their lives around, if they choose to participate in the Fresh Start program.

The names of the nine participants were not released by authorities, and reporters agreed in advance not to release their names if they happened to recognize them.

C-U Fresh Start is an initiative of the Champaign Community Coalition, and facilitated by Champaign Community Relations Manager Tracy Parsons. He says getting the participants the help they need can be challenging.

“It’s helping them first resolve their probation and parole,” said Parsons. “It’s learning more about them individually, what their needs are. So some of them have very complex needs.”

Parsons says those needs can range from treatment for mental health issues or substance abuse, to assistance with transportation or housing.

Of the 20 men brought in for the first two Fresh Start Call-Ins, only six (or 30%) have either completed or are still participating in the program. Parsons says that’s a little better than the 20%) average success rate for programs of this type. Of the others, eleven chose not to participate at all, and three dropped out of the program.

Organizers of C-U Fresh Start say the initiative has been “fine tuned” since the last Call-In held in March, 2017. Urbana Police Chief Sylvia Morgan says participants are now given one week to decide whether to enter the program. She says there are also rules in place to decide if a Fresh Start participant who’s arrested on a non-weapons charge after signing up can still continue with the program.

Reporters saw only the first part of the Call-In, in which only the panelists did any talking. Afterward, the nine men called in by Fresh Start were taken to another room, where they continued to meet with some of the panelists, and were welcome to talk.

The C-U Fresh Start Initiative plans to hold two more call-Ins this year. They come as the number of shooting incidents (with and without victims) has been gradually declining in Champaign-Urbana and the immediate surrounding area. Authorities recorded 127 confirmed shooting incidents in 2015, 112 in 2016 and 85 in 2017.

Sixteen shooting incidents have been confirmed in Champaign-Urbana to date in 2018. That includes one in northwest Champaign on Wednesday, the day before the Fresh Start Call-In. The News-Gazette reports that shooting the life of Michael White of Chicago. The case is still under investigation.