116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
HER Women of Achievement: Rachel Rockwell works to prevent youth violence
‘We need everyone to care about all our youth’
Rachel Rockwell gets to work day in and day out to help create a safe, equitable and thriving community for all.
In 2019 she took on a role to serve as the Program Officer for the Creating Safe, Equitable, and Thriving, or SET, Communities Fund at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Project Manager for local implementation of the Group Violence Intervention model.
In partnership with the organizations that created the SET fund in late 2018 — the city of Cedar Rapids, Linn County and the Cedar Rapids Community School District — Rockwell helps manage grant dollars and convene collaborators to advance the work identified by the SET task force, including economic opportunities, fair housing practices, opportunities in the schools and law enforcement interactions.
She helps identify and connect not-for-profit organizations doing work to help prevent youth violence.
Rockwell was born and raised in Cedar Rapids.
“When I walk the dog, I walk by the house I grew up in,” she said. “I have two children and a grandchild who live here in Cedar Rapids … All my family is here.”
But her message, whether Cedar Rapids is your hometown or the place you now call home, is that we all need to work together to create the kind of community where all youth find a future.
“Research shows that in any given community there is a very small percentage, 0.06 percent, who are the drivers of gun violence. Even though we feel like this is a problem that we cannot get a handle on, when shots are fired in the community and we are hearing this regularly, when there are gun homicides and youth hurting each other and being hurt, it’s our nature to not even connect with that or with the youth or the families who are experiencing this trauma and violence and say it’s not our problem and to look at youth and families experience this violence as other than us, not part of our community,” she said.
“The message I want people to understand is that we need everyone to care about all our youth in Cedar Rapids, whether they are visiting, have moved here from somewhere else, or were born and raised here. Because they are all our children, and they are the future of our community.”
In 2020 she led an application process that received a $465,000 award advancing the SET work to reduce youth violence. Rockwell recently helped launch and co-leads the THRIVE Cohort, a new initiative in partnership with and in support of emerging Black and Brown leaders in the community.
After working in the not-for-profit community in Des Moines and getting her bachelor’s degree from Grandview University, Rockwell spent 15 years as a business consultant in youth, community and organizational development. She also spent time living abroad, first traveling to east Africa to work with non-governmental organizations before falling in love with that part of the world and relocating to live and work there for several years.
Upon returning to Cedar Rapids, Rockwell began work with the Cedar Rapids Community School District to implement the community school model at Hoover Elementary, when she spotted the listing for her current role in the paper.
“I was really quite amazed at how forward thinking this was,” she said. “This fund and role were looking for innovative programming that addresses a tough issue in our community, something that is sometimes even tough to talk about.
“To have the Community Foundation create a whole fund that would address that was really inspiring to me. ”
Over the past several years, Rockwell has worked to educate other community members, leaders and organizations on the importance of a collaborative approach to reducing youth violence in Cedar Rapids.
“My job is to cultivate relationships with nonprofit leaders and educate them on researched based prevention and intervention models that are working in other communities throughout the United States to effectively reduce youth violence and community violence. Sometimes that means introducing nonprofits to each other for collaborative work and helping remove barriers,” she said.
“Research shows this work must have multi-sector engagement of community members and those most affected by violence in our community, including government, law enforcement and social services. I’m trying to pull folks together who care about this and see how they can work together.”
Not surprisingly, Rockwell said the work so far, especially recently, has been very meaningful as they have worked throughout 2021 to operationalize the Group Violence Intervention model.
“We have been working directly with law enforcement and community members to do direct messaging to those who have been identified as being most as risk for violence victimization and offending with gun violence in particular,” she said.
Once a month, Business 380 spotlights some of HER magazine's Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.