CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A program that has shown promise tackling gun violence in Charlotte is now operating on its third site. 

What You Need To Know

  • Program aiming to interrupt gun violence adds new site to its efforts in Charlotte

  • Youth Advocate Programs runs the program at two sites

  • Homicide numbers are higher than this time last year in Charlotte

National nonprofit Youth Advocate Programs (YAP) oversees two of the city’s three Alternatives to Violence (ATV) on Beatties Ford Road and West Boulevard/Remount Road. 

The program focuses on 14- to 28-year-olds.

“We found the national data that these are the age ranges where our most high-risk individuals find the most challenges in their lives,” YAP ATV program manager Kwasi Amponsa said.

Charlotte has had over 34 homicides in the first three months of 2024, which is a 31% increase from the same time last year, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

YAP ATV teams build relationships with the community by spending time there almost every day, helping mediate conflict and preventing it from escalating. 

Spectrum News 1 visited the newest site along West Boulevard/Remount Road, following Donnell Gardner, the site supervisor of this team. 

“This is one of the spots that needed attention, and fortunately, we have been able to make it different,” Gardner said. 

When Spectrum News 1 visited the corridor on a weekday, a verbal conflict between two parties happened outside of a gas station. Gardner and his team quickly intervened, talking to them and separating them from each other. 

“We are familiar with those guys so we wanted to step in, let them know we were there and try to deescalate the situation. Sometimes we can’t, but we give it our best efforts,” Gardner said. 

Gardner, who played football in college, is committed to this work. He said he took a bad turn and went to prison on charges for conspiracy to distribute narcotics. 

“I became part of the problem on federal prison and one of the things is that God allowed me to come from prison and put my boots on the ground,” Gardner said. 

His team kicked off their efforts here in December. 

“To me it’s a blessing to come back to the community I was raised back in,” Gardner said. 

In 2021, YAP partnered with the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to start the first ATV program on Beatties Ford Road. 

A UNC Charlotte study of the program’s first year called it promising and Amponsa agrees. 

"This model has shown success throughout the nation over the last 20 years. So we take it, we know nothing is cookie cutter, but we take it and model it and shape it to fit this community,” Amponsa said. 

From January 2023 to February 2024, the YAP ATV Beatties Ford Road and West Boulevard teams had 28 violence interruptions, engaged with 1,355 people and held 15 community events. 

“Success to me means getting someone a job. Success to me means deescalating the situation so it won’t come to violence,” Gardner said. 

During its work, the group also gives people resources to find jobs or access food, if they need them. 

UNC Charlotte plans to do a follow-up study to analyze the effects of the program long term. 

There’s a third ATV site along Nations Ford Road that is run by a different organization.