By Wakisha Bailey

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia’s rec centers have traditionally been a safe haven for teenagers, but as the gun crisis deepens in the city, some believe they’re more important than ever. The city says this has been a tough year for recreation centers from fighting COVID-19 to and the latest epidemic.

Eyewitness News spoke with several students Friday who say they’re taking back their rec centers and changing the narrative.

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“It might not be the most up-to-date recreation center, I feel like it’s more so about how everyone is inside,” Jazmyn Ellis said.

Jasmyne has been coming to Penrose Recreation Center for years. Here in North Philadelphia, rec centers are the heart of the neighborhoods.

And that’s why Eyewitness News went.

“This is the main room that they are all in,” Justin Hart said.

Justin is part of a teen advisory council.

“I’m working on our yearbook for the summer,” Justin said.

That is just one of the group’s many ideas. They make decisions that impact the center and most importantly, the community outside of the walls.

“For example, when we were thinking about the trash that was going around in this area, whether it’s down the street and stuff like that,” Justin said. “We sent a proposal letter to Home Depot just for more trash cans.”

Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation works with youth development. Over recent years, it’s been hard keeping them safe. Since 2016, the number of teens that have been shot and killed continues to rise.

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Last year, 26 young people died from gun violence and year to date, 28 teens have lost their lives.

Recreation leader Cornelius Edwards created this teen advisory committee.

“I want them to make a difference,” Edwards said.

The group also raises scholarship money through an effort they call “Attract Philly.”

“It started off, we were going to give four kids $250 and it’s just blossomed,” Edwards said.

That $250 turned into $1,000 scholarships encouraging young people to hang out there instead of in the streets.

“I want it to be a continuous thing where they see these kids going to college, I want it to be the norm for them, not killings, not the shootings and things of that nature,” Edwards said.

Jazmyn is a recipient of that scholarship money.

“Bowie State University, it’s an HBCU in Maryland,” she said.

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Jazmyn is entering her second year. She was part of the teen advisory committee and the group also raises money for young people who attend the rec center and are headed off to college.

Wakisha Bailey