DOWAGIAC, Mich. -

A group of community leaders in Dowagiac say they're worried about the young people in their town, so they're trying something new.

They're asking the public for ideas.

Several city and church officials have formed an alliance called the C.H.A.I.N., or Community Helping Advance and Improve Neighborhoods. They say they want to crack down on the youth crime rate by holding regular town hall meetings and getting the community involved.

Pastor Eugene Staples of Second Baptist Church is the one behind the alliance.

The problem, he said, is that Dowagiac has no youth programs -- no Boys and Girls Club or anything similar.

"There is an issue with providing programming for children after school," Staples said. "We want to try to create something that's going to be more than sustainable."
Without those after-school programs, kids have no place to go. And then some get themselves into trouble.

"They're breaking stuff, damage, stealing things. Just causing disturbances and a lot of things, "said the city's Director of Public Safety, Steve Grinnewald. "There's a lot of energy that could be used and geared other places."

Some senior citizens even say they're afraid of the young people.

So the C.H.A.I.N. Alliance gives them a chance to speak up. It's designed to get feedback from the community on how to make Dowagiac a better and safer place to live.

"From the police and fire standpoint, we go out, we patrol, we do our things, and we don't ever really hear what the true problems are," Grinnewald said.

And instead of focusing on the crime and negativity, it's about finding solutions.

"It's not just about coming to point fingers about what's wrong," Staples said. "It's a chance that we're going to have some breakout groups, talk about some of their issues, talk about some of the opportunities."

The first town hall meeting put on by C.H.A.I.N. will be held Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Second Baptist Church, 203 S. Paul St. in Dowagiac at 7 p.m. Free food and door prizes will follow the meeting.