QUEENS — Carolyn Dixon watched her 24-year-old son, Darrell Lynch, die 18 months ago in South Jamaica in a shooting over a parking space.
Rocked by her son's death, she vowed to turn her grief into help for other parents going through similar experiences.
“No one can understand the pain that we go through, so my goal is to support any parent who are losing their children to gun violence, because this is an abnormal life for parents to go through,” said Dixon, 58.
Dixon got involved in LIFE Camp, a local anti-violence group led by activist Erica Ford, which has developed a successful model to reduce youth violence.
Its volunteers, who wear orange T-shirts, the color which the group said symbolizes peace, monitor local streets in South Jamaica, once marred by gun violence, and try to engage young people while spreading the message that “peace is a lifestyle," Ford said.
They also go to crime scenes and try to convince gang members not to retaliate against each other.
The group celebrated a milestone Tuesday at its target area, which stretches between 147th Street and Guy Brewer Boulevard and between 111th and 118th avenues, had no shootings in 365 days, Ford said.
The area includes the Baisley Park Houses, where, according to statistics provided by the NYPD for the period ending Dec. 13, overall crime rose from 6 incidents last year to 11 this year, an increase of more than 83 percent, but the complex had no shootings in the past two years.
In the entire 113th Precinct, which includes the target area, as well as portions of St. Albans, Hollis, Springfield Gardens and Addisleigh Park, there were 22 shootings this year, a decrease of nearly 27 percent compared to the year before, when the precinct recorded 30 shootings, according to NYPD CompStat figures.
Karen Clements, president of the 113th Precinct community council, said that LIFE Camp is well respected in the community, but it also collaborates closely with the precinct, especially with its so called neighborhood coordination officers, who are assigned every day to the same sectors within the precinct trying to get to know local residents and their every day problems.
"We are really excited that they are our community partner and we are really excited that they work really well with our NCO officers," Clements said.
Recently, LIFE Camp also started monitoring Rochdale Village and several other neighborhoods in Southeast Queens, said Ford, whose organization receives financial support from the city and several elected officials, including Councilman Ruben Wills, who represents the area.
“Taking guns out of people’s hands and making sure that the beef does not start is not some simple task," said Wills. "But you’ve gone beyond that with showing these young people the same love that the gangs used to show them.”
Wills also cited studies by the Center for American Progress that reducing violent crime increases property value, a process which he said has already begun in the area.
Ford said that the initiative is successful in part because the volunteers come “from both sides of the gun.”
“We have brothers who went to jail for murder, who came home, did their time and are now working to change the dynamics and the culture of violence in our community,” she said. “And we have brothers and sisters who’ve lost their children, their loved ones to violence who also work with us."
“Together we change ... the norms of this disease called violence that plagues our communities, and plagues our city.”