Aledo Project Hope is not a gang

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter
From left, Terry Dove, Aledo interim chief of police, officer John Murphy, Aaron Christian and Brandy Emo sit down and talk about a new youth group organizing in Aledo.

A group known as "Aledo Project Hope" has been formed to stop the notion of gangs in Aledo, according to founders of the group Aaron Christian and Brandy Emo. Brandy's son Christopher was attacked last Thursday (Aug. 5, 2010) in the VFW parking lot and is now home recovering from a severe beating he received from three individuals who are not associated with Aledo Project Hope.

"He was hit with a hammer three times and kicked with steel-toed boots," Brandy  said. She said he received more than scrapes and bruises, and might have a fracture in his wrist.

The founders of Aledo Project Hope have met with the Aledo Police Department, who is working to give the 13-or so kids who are hanging out together something constructive to do. "We've come together to work with them," said Terry Dove, acting chief of police in Aledo.

"They're adamant they are not a gang, never have been a gang," Dove has assigned two officers, John Murphy and Shay Litwiler, as officer liaisons working with Aledo Project Hope. Murphy will also start in the Mercer County High School as the school's resource officer next week.

The group is being organized by parent, Brandy Emo, and her 21-year-old nephew Aaron Christian.

Christian is interested in helping keep the kids on the straight and narrow, something he did not do when he was their age. Christian grew up in Aledo for his first 13 years, then moved to Viola and eventually to Rockford with his father. It was there that he began getting into trouble.

"I can understand why people think they might be a gang," Brandy said. "The kids were wearing orange bandanas and orange T-shirts and in a group."

Aledo Project hope is changing its focus from just hanging out to a theme of volunteerism. They are picking out new green and white shirts and will have the word "Volunteer" on the back of the shirt.

Brandy said some of the group's ideas have been to help clean up parks, do some after school studying, help community members with projects. They plan to do fund-raisers to earn money to help the needy during the holidays.

Two days after the incident where Christopher Emo was attacked, a group of 10 went to the Mercer County Nursing Home and played games with the residents. "We spent two hours there last Saturday," Brandy said. "I've never seen so much respect paid to people," she added, speaking about how the young people interacted with residents. "I'm doing things for the kids. We cooked out with them," she said.

Christian is philosophical about his role in the group. "A lot of people are down on me because of my past. But I'm trying to turn it around." He said he knows what some of the young people are going through and is grateful the police are getting involved in a guidance role.

Gang activity not here

Chief Dove said he wanted to clarify that there is not any gang activity in Aledo. "I worked in Southern California for 20 years. I know gangs and gang activity. We don't have gangs here," he said.

Anyone with ideas on activities for Aledo Project Hope is welcome to contact Brandy at (3090 631-1532.

A meeting with as many of the group as can come is scheduled on Tuesday, Aug. 17, in Aledo City Hall.

"I plan to have a project lined up for them them," said Chief Dove.