‘Parents on Premises’ keeps eye on youths at west side shopping center
Parents dressed in yellow T-shirts with POP printed in bold letters on the front are becoming the new normal at the Meadowood Shopping Center.
“Is everything OK? No kids, no problems today?” Judy Haynes called out to one of the employees in the Cleaners, a shop in the Madison shopping center.
Those questions are now a part of an almost daily check-in with businesses in the shopping center.
The shopping center is a popular hangout for neighborhood kids, which has attracted negative behavior like stealing and fighting.
“Parents on Premise” is a team of parents working to not only keep youth on track but to provide them with support and a sense of community.
Ashley Wilborn, a parent with POP, said youth were stealing around $300 in merchandise a week at places like Walgreens before the initiative started.
“We are making an impact on these kids life for their future because we show that they have to be responsible for their actions, (and are) accountable for what they’re doing and we show that we care. Someone cares regardless of what’s going on in your home life, even if you feel like you’re alone, you’re not alone. We are here for you and I think it goes a long way,” Wilborn, said.
Wilborn and three other parents are paid to monitor activity in the shopping center and the park across the street. The parents work in teams of two to build relationships with over 50 youths in the area, treating them like one of their own.
“They are just minds without having avenues to go down and what we do is give them avenues to let them know there are other ways to go to become successful,” POP parent James Edison said.
Tutankhamin “Coach” Assad, founder of the Mellowhood Foundation, started POP after he said a neighborhood kid fought with a security guard from JBM Patrol and Protection. The Meadowood neighborhood on Madison’s southwest side has troubled law enforcement over the years, which is why Assad said he wants to change the narrative of the area.
“My goal is to have every parent talking to one another and the tension lowering in this neighborhood and for people who are on the outside that are so quick to paint the wrong narrative understand that we embody the true spirit of community,” Assad said.
Since November, businesses like Anchor Bank said it is already starting to see the impact.
Lashon Tucker, assistant branch manager, said the bank used to have 15-20 youths loitering around the area, making customers feel uncomfortable. Tucker said instead of worrying about the youth, she now looks forward to the daily check ins with the parents of POP and seeing youth engaged in positive activity.
“It’s cleaner. The kids are actually picking up their stuff. They aren’t just leaving it everywhere, you know the community is coming together. I don’t have customers saying, ‘How could you work over there? It’s so bad there. I’m scared to come over there.’ I don’t get that anymore,” Tucker said.
Assad is working with the Madison Police Department to compare data from times POP is on duty and when it’s not. Since parents have been monitoring the area, they say calls for service to police, thefts and fights have declined. The program receives grant funding from the city, which help pays for the POP members.
Assad hopes to grow the program to 10 parents, but he said that will take more funding.