Community College of Allegheny County introduces program aimed at reducing gun violence

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — The Community College of Allegheny County is trying to deal with recent gun violence in a new way.

11 News learned how the program is giving a group of students critical resources and putting them on a path to success.

Blue flashing lights and police filling the street has become a common scene across the Pittsburgh region.

“Two of my brothers had been shot and killed so I’ve had a couple trauma issues that have dealt with all realms of violence,” said Ashlee Bentley who’s a student of CCAC’s Guns Down, Level Up.

Violence has touched so many lives and created a lot of barriers.

“You are dealing with poverty when you are talking about gun violence. You are dealing with people that get caught up with a regular routine of just surviving and don’t actually know where to take that first step of change at,” said Michael Talley who’s a CCAC Student Success Coach.

That’s where CCAC Homewood-Brushton’s new program, “Guns Down, Level Up,” comes into play.  The program is aimed at helping people who have firsthand gun violence experiences to get the education, job training and help they need to succeed no matter your age.

“Part of reducing gun violence is ensuring folks have coping mechanisms and a strong support system,” said Dr. Angelica Perez-Johnston who’s CCAC’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Director.

Students are required to meet with a success coach weekly to talk about career pathways from barbers to nurses and even drivers. Then they must sit down with a mental health therapist once a week.

“I’m 37 and a lot of times when you are older you don’t really feel comfortable talking to people because you don’t want to be judged but in order to grow you got to change,” Bentley said.

Bentley told Channel 11 she wouldn’t be in college right now if it wasn’t for the grants funding this program. CCAC received $800,000 to pay for anything financial aid doesn’t cover, opening the door for more than 70 students already enrolled in the program with more continuing to join.

“They were given an opportunity to change their life. I had a guy send me a message who said thank you amber. I completed the program. A year and a half ago I was in federal prison trying to figure out how I’m going to get out and now I work for DOT doing tunnel maintenance now so thank you,” Amber Sloane who’s a CCAC Community Success Coach said.

Out of the students who have graduated the program so far, there is over an 80% success rate. That means students are landing jobs and continuing on this path to prosperity.

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