Community think tank will seek answers to problem of violence and young people

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Posted July 13, 2020 | By Bill Thompson
Deputy Editor

This week brings a renewed effort to better understand how violence affects local children, as potential victims and perpetrators, and how to protect them.

On Thursday, the Public Policy Institute of Marion County, or PPI, will launch a two-year study that focuses on children from Pre-K ages to middle school, as well as their parents, to determine that services could benefit these families and encourage them to become productive citizens.

The PPI board appointed Dr. Dama Abshier of Ocala to lead the study.

According to PPI representatives, Abshier has spent 18 years with Marion County Public Schools in analyzing and implementing efforts related to student behavioral analysis, alternative learning, and improving parental involvement. She also has served as an educational consultant with the University of South Florida, which runs the Florida Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, designed to help school districts improve student behavior.

“Marion County is extremely fortunate to have Dr. Abshier as the leader of this study because of her background and experience working in the educational milieu,” John Dozier, vice chairman of the PPI’s board of directors, said in a statement.

The kickoff session is scheduled 8:30–10 a.m. and will be conducted online via Zoom.

At the outset, PPI said in a press release, the research will promote discussions among community leaders, local educators, child-and-family service providers, and interested members of the public about the “escalating violence in the community, how that affects the development of Marion County’s children, and potential strategies for abating violence among our youth.

The PPI board, led by Dr. Jerone Gamble, seeks to learn if coordinated services — ranging from health and well-being and relationship management to tutoring and parenting classes — can “create a support system for children that allows them to become productive citizens in the future.”

PPI has conducted 14 similar, community-oriented studies since 2000. The very first one looked at violence in county schools.

It found that the majority of students in Marion County schools were doing well and felt safe in their schools.

But when problems emerged the situation of increased violence among young people was influenced by domestic violence, child abuse, a lack of parental attention, involvement and parenting skills, violent messages in the media and fatherless homes.

For this time, Ocala police Chief Greg Graham and Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods are co-sponsoring the study. PPI also welcomes additional co-sponsors and contributions from the local business community, civic organizations, and Marion County residents.

Those interested in contributing should send donations to PPI at 3001 S.W. College Rd. in Ocala, 34474.

Those who may be interested in serving on the PPI study team or any of its subcommittees can contact Abshier at Dama4PPI@gmail.com

For additional information about the study or PPI, contact Dr. Gamble at (352) 454-5720.