By Tracy Sears, WTVR

Hundreds of parishioners from congregations across Central Virginia gathered Monday night for the first RISC big assembly meeting of the year.

RISC, or Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Communities, was founded in 2002 and brings the faith community together to find solutions to critical problems including poverty, mental health issues, and gun violence. The meeting took place at Second Baptist Church Southside.

The topic of gun violence headlined Monday night’s discussion.

Reverend Marvin Gilliam spoke about the violence, including last June’s shooting outside a high school graduation that killed two people and injured several others.

He called the impact of gun violence is far-reaching.

“It impacts teachers and students in the classroom having to deal with trauma. Certainly, for our clergy like myself across the city who have had to do funerals for gunshot victims and to care for their families. It takes a toll on everyone,” Gilliam said.

Gilliam spoke about a recent partnership between the City of Hopewell and Real Life, a Richmond-based organization that runs 11 recovery homes and focuses on gun violence reduction through a mentorship program.

According to Hopewell Deputy Police Chief Donald Ried, who spoke at Monday night’s meeting, the program has helped reduce gun violence in the City of Hopewell by nearly 80% in the past year.

Sarah Scarbrough, Real Life’s director and founder, said the organization is now partnering with the City of Petersburg and the Richmond Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and hoped to see similar success.

“Every time we turn on the TV practically or look at the paper, there’s something related to gun violence or a homicide or a shooting and so it’s overwhelming and one would say it’s everywhere and everyone is doing it and that’s not really the case,” Scarbrough said. “It’s a very small number, about .1% of the population who is really engaging in a large majority of gun violence.”

The gun violence intervention initiative targets those most at risk in the community and offers mentorships and resources to help turn lives in a positive direction.

Gilliam said the program is proof that RISC’s mission of helping serve through faith and community-based programs, can help communities thrive.

“Imagine living in a city that is safe or where people are feeling good to sit on their front porch and walk the streets freely across the city,” Gilliam said.

Scarbrough said the organization hopes to have both programs in Petersburg and the RHRA in place by the first of 2024.

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