STEUBENVILLE - Parents, children and community leaders gathered Saturday at Murphy Field to listen to one another about ways to stop the violence in the city.
The conversation was very personal to Michael Thomas, whose son, Demitrius, was stabbed to death not to far away from his home on July 25.
Thomas, a Jefferson Behavioral Health System case manager, organized the United Neighbors Ignites Teens with Education and Drug Awareness by Fostering Education, Respect and Openness with Never Ending Truths, or U.N.I.T.E.D. F.R.O.N.T.
TALKING — Michael Thomas, whose son, Demitrius, was stabbed to death on July 25, organized a picnic meeting of parents, children and community leaders Saturday so everyone can talk about ending the violence in the city. -- Mark Law
"The mission today is for the kids to listen and respond. We need to unite the community. So many times the community has started this but it doesn't continue. It is so necessary to work with the teens," Thomas said.
A cookout lunch was provided and then the kids gathered to discuss ways that adults can help the children.
Thomas asked the kids to write down on paper what they want to see in the city, whether it be drug awareness, ending violence or activities for the kids to keep busy.
"We will continue to fight for the cause," he promised.
Thomas said his son was full of energy and very respectful.
"We need to get out and engage and be mentors. We need to captivate young men and women," he said.
Thomas said he has never seen the community this bad.
He had a message to the drug dealers and those committing the violence.
"It is not OK to come in and disrupt this whole city," he said.
"We need to say enough is enough. We want more people to step up. There is darkness in the kids that I have never seen before. We as parents need to take back our kids," he said.
City Mayor Domenick Mucci said the community is very unique and made up of outstanding individuals.
"Mike's strength is moving us forward," Mucci said of Thomas.
"We need to find out what is on the youths' mind - good, bad or whatever. We need to understand it and approach the problem. It needs to start at home, with parents being parents. They need to set ground rules," Mucci said.
Mucci urged parents to monitor their children's involvement in social media.
"We are here today to listen so, as mayor, I can put the mechanisms for change in place," he said.
Lisa Ward, Jefferson Behavioral Health Services community support program administrator, said she has worked with Thomas for the past two decades.
She outlined the services Jefferson Behavioral Health System has for the community. She said families don't need insurance to get the services offered.
She said parenting is a tough job and doesn't come with a handbook.
Ward encourage parents to recognize warning signs that something may be bothering their child, such as falling grades.
"When kids come home and you see they had a bad day, you need to see what is going on," she said.
She also urged children not to be afraid to go to their parents and ask for help and say, "I need someone to talk to."
Ward said the community in the past year has seen the hope removed from kids.
She told parents they need to be parents.
"We are not their best friend. We have a job to be strict, firm and set limits," Ward said.
Michael McVey, Steubenville City Schools superintendent, said the school system has to be part of the community but he also encouraged kids to talk to teachers, coaches and advisers about concerns and problems.
"We need to keep the communication open. We are always there," he said.