On a rare Friday off from school, 16-year-old Oluwasegun Tijani could be anywhere. He chose to stand with his peers at the corner of Madison Avenue and Lark Street to protest violence in the city of Albany.

"I used to live in a community that was very bad for me and there were lots of kids that were being brought into gangs and stuff all because they thought it was cool, but they ended up dying or getting really hurt," said Tijani.

The 2nd Annual Stop the Violence rally hosted by the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Capital Area happened to fall on the day after the city saw its 18th homicide of the year, surpassing last year's total in early November. In 2021, the city saw 17 homicides.

"It's not always the data. It's not always how the percentage that crime has gone down or crime has gone up," said Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins. "Numbers are just that. It gives us an idea, but what really lets us know is when we're having these engagements with the community, what are they telling us?"

Wrapping up his fourth year as the city's police chief, Hawkins said while homicides have slightly increased, the data doesn't reflect his department's progress toward making people feel safer and more supported. "We're not waving the flag of success," said Hawkins. "We're not saying that we've won the battle. We're not saying that everything's there. We're done doing what needs to be done. But what we're saying is that there's progress being made."

This year saw more young people involved in crimes and more illegal weapons on the streets.

The police department's strategy? Finding the root cause and taking a proactive approach.

They've taken over 130 illegal weapons off the streets.

"Our community wants the police department to be a part of this ecosystem that's supporting these kids, and so we're really laser-focused on doing that," said Hawkins.

They started the Paid Police Cadet Program and upped their partnerships with community organizations.

"We've got to give these young people as many opportunities as possible," said Hawkins. "And then we've got to really address some of the quality-of-life and crime issues that we're seeing, as well, and sending a message that crime and disorderly conduct in our community is not acceptable. Community doesn't want communities fed up with it. And so we're looking forward to, as we go into 2023, really working even more with our community to address some of these things."

Partnerships with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, where their mission is to help make great futures a reality for young people.

"If I could save one, that's my motto," said program manager David Gordon. "I could just save one, given the opportunities that we have here in the resources that we can give to our youth, that's what it's all about."

In developing the programs for next year, they're listening to what the kids want, focusing on preventing gun violence, teen pregnancies and drug use. The organization serves nearly four million kids and teens across the country, but a lack of funding can be limiting for local clubs.

"What is that investment worth?" said Gordon "What kind of investment do we put into that child?"

Through the organization's after-school programs, Tijani said he's found purpose and a path to express himself.

"If it wasn't for a Boys and Girls Club, I probably would have been like just wandering the streets aimlessly, looking for something to do," said Tijani. "I got to, like, mentor some kids and I also learned a bunch of skills that can help me later in life."