Bucks County residents who gathered Wednesday afternoon to brainstorm ideas to reduce violence had their work laid out for them upfront by the event's organizer: "We have limited resources and a lot of trouble."
But Doylestown Township supervisors' chairman Barbara N. Lyons also told the three dozen or so people gathered at the township building, "We have to [just] stop talking about this stuff [violence] and figure out what we can do as citizens. … I've got to believe there are two or three things everybody in this room can suggest."
Over the next 75 minutes, group members drew on their experience as "normal people" (Lyons' term) and their expertise in the fields of education, social services, medicine and law enforcement to make suggestions.
Lyons will take their ideas back to the state General Assembly's newly formed advisory committee studying the underlying cause of violent crime when it meets for a second time next Wednesday in Harrisburg. Lyons is one of the 25 members on the committee.
The Bucks group's ideas ranged from having school programs that teach empathy and compassion; to parenting classes for adults; to developing customized public service announcements; to having older children mentor younger ones, and senior citizens work with younger families.
Other suggestions included using local celebrities and sport figures to get the anti-violence message across to children; holding community-wide events such as pot luck suppers, and coordinating Web sites offering counseling and mental health services.
The most common theme was getting to children when they are young. Township police Chief Dean Logan said it was important that DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs start in elementary school, and followed through in middle and high school. "That way, maybe we can get to some people," he said. "When they're older, it's already too late."
Former township Police Chief Steve White, who is now chief of security at Doylestown Hospital, said taking the stigma out of using mental health programs would be beneficial. "People would rather stay in their houses and hide," he said.
Barbara Simmons, executive director of the Peace Center in Langhorne, suggested establishing mental health centers in every school. She said it was important to determine how many children are being exposed to trauma, and to intervene. "For each trauma, a kid's IQ drops by three points," she noted.
Roland Bender, a member of the Central Bucks Task Force on Aging, suggested teaching children to focus not on themselves, but on what's around them. "Develop in them an awareness of what is happening," he advised, adding, "It has to start with parental responsibility."
Kimberly Cambra, executive director of CB Cares in Doylestown, concurred. "Children [who are cyber bullies] don't own their own behavior. Cell phones have become loaded guns. … We should teach relationships -- How did [my behavior] make the other person feel?"
Christian Jones, a township intern who was the meeting's designated "scrivener," also chipped in with an idea: "Coming from a younger generation, I would suggest using a Facebook group or Twitter organization to reach younger people. Create an app, or create a game. Kids and adults get addicted to [on-line] games."
Jones' idea was supported by Mandy Mundy, director of education and training for the Jamison-based victims assistance network NOVA. "[The Internet] is where they are getting their news, so we should be meeting kids where they're at."
County resident Ken Snyder said the app might kick in "when certain words [in messages] crop up, like 'I hate my dad' or 'I hate my mom.' It would help get some of the anger out of them. It would be a dump site."
Cambra suggested the school nurse could be used to reach children before violence happens. "They could ask non-invasive questions of a child they might see [more often than usual]. 'Are you OK?' 'Would you feel better if you talked with someone else?' "