CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – As the school year comes to a close some teens are trying to manage the ongoing trauma that is associated with gun violence.

An 18-year-old killed in Norfolk last month was Jayvon Braithwaite’s cousin. “This is something that I’m still trying to get over; I may never get over it,” said Braithwaite.

Jayvon is days away from graduating from Oscar Smith High School. A few years ago counselors showed him a beacon of light.

“I look back on my freshman year and it is surprising. It’s a blessing honestly to be where I am now,” said Jayvon with pride.

Jayvon and about a dozen others are part of the Merchant Marine program at Oscar Smith. 13 graduates from the 2022 class are already sailing the high seas as Defense Department employees who operate supply and other ships in support of the U.S. Navy. Two school counselors, Kelly Morgan and Fred Barber charted the course to a career with the Defense Department.

“They have to get a urinalysis and they have to get a physical. We take them down in Virginia Beach to get their TWIC card, then we take them to go get their passport,” said Morgan.

“It is breathtaking to see the kids light up and say ‘Hey, I want to do this,'” said Barber.

Faith United, an organization comprised of several churches, picks up the estimated $600 tab for each applicant. Faith United member Taylor Grissom hopes the Merchant Marine template at Oscar Smith will be duplicated for other employers in Hampton Roads.

“To be able to come alongside them and support them is just all the feeling in the world,” said Grissom.

Merchant Mariner and USN retiree, Mitchell Clapp, is the student’s advisor. He is proud of their progress as the region has witnessed a spike in crime involving youth.

“Getting a lot of the kids off the streets and in jobs and that’s where they need to be in job fields and not just walking the streets,” said Clapp who has recruited young people in Norfolk and Chesapeake.

Click here to learn more about careers with the Merchant Marine.