LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – With Little Rock breaking its homicide record last year, and some of those homicides involving young people, the city’s Community Programs Department is hoping to change the lives of young individuals this summer.

Michael Sanders, Assistant Director of Community Programs said under the city’s Prevention, Intervention and Treatment Program, the city can fund numerous after-school and summer programs like the Summer Youth Employment Program, which gives around 700 young people from ages 16 to 21 summer internships that pay.

“Exposing them to alternatives tends to reduce the likelihood they will engage in violent activity,” Sanders said.

Sanders said he also believes that the program shapes their summer towards a path away from violence and provide opportunities they never would have experienced.

“It was created so that young people who would normally not be afforded an opportunity to get an internship could now get an internship,” Sanders said. “I know often the question is asked are we just wasting money or these young people benefitting from these but I’m living proof it works.”

Because before Sanders had the job he is in now, he was once a mentee in the program.

“I grew up on 21st and Rock Street during the time where banging in Little Rock was prevalent,” Sanders said. “My mother had the wisdom to take me to programming and enroll me into summer youth employment. Where I could create some meaningful relationships and they could pour into my life.”

Little Rock Police Department Resource Officer Justin Sims said before he wore the badge, he too was once a mentee in the program that helped him decide his career

“So I started as a mentee around 2013,” Sims said. “That whole summer I was working with camps with kids probably 13 to 16 years old and pretty much what I do know.”

Sims said while in the program he learned the power of networking, which eventually helped him gain an interview and advice on how to become a police officer with the Chief of LRPD at the time.

“I don’t think kids know the power of networking and being able to be in certain rooms that you yourself can’t place yourself in. So some people were able to put me in those rooms I didn’t have a key too,” Sims said.

Sims said he tries to also instill hope to the young people he sees because he can relate to them.

“I grew up in the inner-city Little Rock, around the John Barrow area, and most of these kids are not given the opportunity to get a regular summer youth employment job,” Sims said.

Sims said that he works to share a message to young people and their families.

“Be busy this summer doing positive things and building positive relationships. Don’t let these kids be idle,” Sims said.

Sanders said the applications for the program are over 800 people already and they’re looking for more businesses to partner with to help further provide a variety of internships.

To learn more about this program, and to partner with the program, call 501-399-3420.