Serve & Connect and the North Columbia Youth Empowerment Initiative (NCYEI) have reunited with the City of Columbia and the Columbia Police Department to host their annual Be Safe Summer Series. The community-engagement initiative, consisting of several block parties across the Columbia area, will be held from June to August. Upcoming event dates and locations are as follows:
- June 29 – Gable Oaks Apartments | 901 Colleton St., Columbia, SC 29203
- July 13 – T.S. Martin Park – 2700 Edison St., Columbia, SC 29204
- July 20 – Belvedere Neighborhood | 3601 Furman St., Columbia, SC 29204
- Aug. 10 – Allstars Field | 3920 Lester Drive, Columbia, SC 29203
The Serve & Connect-sponsored series is free and open to the public, with evening events held between 4 and 6 p.m. This year’s theme, “Peace Champs,” invites guests to join fellow community members and local law enforcement in sports-themed festivities, promoting camaraderie and teamwork while enjoying refreshments and connecting with local resource providers.
“These experiences are about bringing us together, celebrating community and creating safe, enjoyable spaces for our neighbors by meeting them where they are,” says Erica Staley, Serve & Connect’s North Columbia site coordinator.
The 2023 series began in May at Central Baptist Church with an end-of-school celebration featuring complimentary meals and desserts provided by Walmart and the Columbia Police Department. The event also included a resource fair; a Palmetto Mobile Arcade experience sponsored by the Solomon Law Group; and a motivational talk about safety and good choices led by event partners, including Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Additionally, the event featured a basketball game between police officers and youth and a surprise visit from University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley. Future events will include similar experiences.
“We hope by including activities that interest youths, encouraging teamwork and relationship building, and supporting unifying spaces without barriers of cost or access, we will show how intentional we all are in creating welcoming and affirming spaces for our young people,” Serve & Connect’s Staley added. “Any work we can do with and for the community is time well spent.”
As one of Serve & Connect’s main initiatives, NCYEI is part of the nonprofit’s ongoing efforts to promote collaboration and connectedness among community-based groups making a difference in the lives of South Carolina’s youth. This year’s summer series is funded by the Byrnes Criminal Justice Innovation grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ), which Serve & Connect received in support of its criminal justice innovation efforts to address and reduce serious and violent crime through collaborative cross-sector approaches that help advance broader neighborhood development goals.
Together with community leaders, Serve & Connect has focused on fostering positive change through sustainable police-community partnerships in the state. The evidence-informed work conducted in the 29203 zip code has led to an expansion of similar programs in Kershaw, Newberry, Fairfield and Orangeburg counties.
ABOUT NORTH COLUMBIA YOUTH EMPOWERMENT INITIATIVE
The North Columbia Youth Empowerment Initiative was established in collaboration with the Columbia Police Department, Richland County Sheriff’s Office, Serve & Connect and community leaders to foster police and community partnerships that empower the lives of neighborhood children and youth in the 29203 region. The initiative is funded by a Byrnes Criminal Justice Innovation grant from the Department of Justice.
ABOUT SERVE & CONNECT
Serve & Connect is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that aims to ignite positive change through police-community partnerships. Kassy Alia Ray founded the organization in memory of her late husband, Officer Gregory Alia, who was killed in the line of duty in 2015. Backed by evidence-based practices designed to fuel collaboration, Serve & Connect provides the tools, training, and technical assistance necessary for police departments, local organizations, leaders, and residents to work together to improve community outcomes.