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on June 07, 2016 at 12:25 PM, updated June 07, 2016 at 12:52 PM
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — David Beidel has worked tirelessly over the last 15 years to help the most at risk youth in the community.
The senior pastor of New Hope Community Church — located across the street from the West Brighton Houses — operates several programs in an attempt to keep teens from falling into street violence and inspire a positive change in his neighborhood.
“Some of them come from really challenging home situations,” Beidel said. “You could never tell because they’re some of the sweetest people to work with.”
The church, located in a former sanitation garage, runs activities including an afterschool program, a six-week summer camp, and a new basketball league that started last month.
Josephine Cruz, a local community member, said these kind of programs are just what kids in the neighborhood need.
“These kids need more positive activities,” Cruz said. “These are the people getting killed, they’re not even reaching 25 because they have nothing to do.”
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Beidel believes his programs are paying dividends. When he first started, the neighborhood had one of the highest murder rates in the city.
It was a few months after the murder of Police Officer Gerard Carter, and Beidel remembered a drive-by shooting happening right in front of PS 18.
His most vivid memory was a child telling him why he couldn’t make it to youth group.
“I couldn’t come to youth group Pastor Dave, because there was a dead body in front of my building at the West Brighton Houses,” Beidel recalled the young man telling him.
Since then, Beidel believes the neighborhood has drastically changed, seeing a dramatic drop in violence, something he attributes to prayer.
“It’s been amazing to see,” he said.
Still, the reminders of pit falls are always present.
Just last month, authorities announced they busted a drug ring that peddled heroin around the West Brighton Houses.
Beidel, who is part of a larger network of pastors and churches on Staten Island, says true change can only come from everyone working together.
“When the church and the schools and the police, the community and the community centers are on the same page…it forms a Kevlar, like a protection for kids in the community,” he said.
He regrets that the Kevlar has not been able to protect everyone.
“We were struggling with the fact that a lot of the kids we’ve known since they were 7 are killing each other,” he said.
He remembered Barry Lovelace, a 17-year-old who authorities said was gunned down in 2015 by his lifelong friend Mark Ortiz while they were sitting in another friend’s living room at the West Brighton Houses.
“It’s heartbreaking, because when they were little, they were precious too, and the streets sucked them in,” Beidel said.
He sees those streets as five percent of people in his community who are intent on “wickedness,” he believes that they are still the community’s biggest challenge.
However, he sees hope for the future.
In addition to the basketball league that he and several others started on the North Shore, several pastors, including Beidel will be taking part in an evening of prayer for Staten Island.