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Ochsner Rush, Project Inspire target at-risk youth

Meridian Star - 11/29/2023

Nov. 29—Ochsner Rush Health and Project Inspire are partnering on a new program that aims to address the rising violence among young people in the community by focusing on youth intervention, mentorship and career development.

To bring more awareness to the program and to foster more community discussion on the importance of addressing the rising violence among at-risk youth in the community, Ochsner Rush Health will host two community forums this week, one on Thursday and the other on Sunday, both open to the public.

"Ochsner Rush Health brings the resources and opportunities to allow at-risk youth in Meridian to become better versions of themselves. By pouring into these youth and developing relationships, our hope is that we will give these individuals the building blocks to not only dream, but to also achieve those dreams," said Dr. Jason DeFatta, a trauma surgeon at Ochsner Rush Health who was instrumental in fostering the partnership between Project Inspire and the health system.

Originally introduced by University of South Alabama Health in 2017, Project Inspire is a semester-long, hospital-based injury prevention program aiming to reduce violence among at-risk youth by combining trauma center exposure, mentorship and career development. Through an ongoing partnership with the Meridian Youth Court, local juvenile offenders will gain unique insight into the consequences of gun violence through tours of Ochsner Rush Health's trauma services. They will also receive Stop the Bleed® training and participate in community service projects.

In addition to hospital-based learning opportunities, participants will complete career planning activities, such as professional development, resume creation and mock interviews. In partnership with East Mississippi Business Development Corporation, participants will shadow professionals throughout east Mississippi as they explore a variety of future career options.

DeFatta said the program has proven successful since it was initiated at the University of South Alabama.

"For the students that completed the program, the rate of recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) dropped to 11%, compared to the national average of 44% and the average in Mobile, Alabama, of 40%," he said. "The program partners with community organizations and businesses, allowing the participants to develop relationships and see examples and opportunities of what their future can be."

He invites community residents to the two open forums to discuss and learn more about the new program and the potential it has in impacting local young people.

The first forum, "Project Inspire: Community Gathering and Discussion," will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Boys and Girls Club of East Mississippi's headquarters office near Highland Park, located at 1717 45th Avenue in Meridian.

Then at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, the second forum, "Project Inspire: City-Wide Community Church Rally and Discussion," will be held at Poplar Springs Drive Baptist Church, located at 4032 Poplar Springs Drive in Meridian.

To RSVP for either event, email DeFatta at

"We all see the crime and violence in Meridian and cannot turn a blind eye to it any longer," said DeFatta, who has witnessed the effects of the rising youth violence first hand in the trauma ward. "Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.' It's time to light that candle in Meridian."

He asks for community residents to join him, and "let's light that candle in Meridian together, allowing that light to shine and penetrate the deepest, darkest spots in Meridian, in the surrounding areas, and throughout Mississippi."


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