116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The individual leading administration of Cedar Rapids’ new Group Violence Intervention strategy, which has shown early success in reducing rates of gun violence, plans to leave the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and continue instead with a Central City nonprofit — raising questions over the long-term strategy and funding.
Rachel Rockwell, the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Fund program officer for the Community Foundation since 2019, is headed to the nonprofit Central City Development Corp. this spring to continue “building community capacity to prevent violence,” supported in part with some federal grant funding.
City of Cedar Rapids officials were uncertain what implications her departure would have on programming and funding, but Rockwell said the work will be done in partnership with the city, Community Foundation and the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
Becoming the director of organizational development and partnerships for Central City Development Corp. will allow Rockwell to move out of a role as funder and to instead focus her Cedar Rapids efforts on sustaining the long-term work of building relationships and community capacity to address violence, Rockwell said in an interview Tuesday. The suggested effective date of her resignation is March 31.
The GVI model of prevention uses custom notifications from community members to share a message of love and anti-violence and an offer of support for those who are at risk of being victims or offenders of gun violence. The Central City Development Corp. has been engaged in the boots-on-the-ground outreach aspect of GVI from the beginning stages, Rockwell said.
“For this community to see real change, there needs to be a communitywide change in perceptions of those who are impacted by violence and are victims of violence and offenders of violence and the root causes of that,” Rockwell said. “We also need to have a better understanding of the intersections between social determinants of health, racism and violence if we’re going to truly see peace in our community.”
She has served as the interim GVI project manager and said that position will need to find a long-term home and funding, which will take planning to identify. Rockwell is willing to continue serving in that capacity focusing on the community aspect of GVI until then.
Rockwell expects funding in part for the work with the Central City Development Corp. to come from a contract with Linn County Public Health, using a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant. The local health agency was awarded $1.25 million over five years.
With the grant programming, Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi previously said Linn County Public Health would not subcontract with the Community Foundation, but would work to align the programs.
“I’m very grateful for the Community Foundation’s incubation of this work, and the city and the county and the school district launching the funding for this work, and particularly for community members and law enforcement members who have really worked to come together, learn from each other, become community members and team members so that we can see a reduction in violence,” Rockwell said.
Karla Twedt-Ball, the Community Foundation’s senior vice president of programs and community investment, said the organization is working with the SET Policy Committee as it incubates GVI while getting pieces in place, developing partners and securing funding mechanisms to establish a full community framework. The Community Foundation is working with all partners on a transition plan for Rockwell’s role.
“It is highly specialized, skilled work so we want to make sure we are moving forward in such a way that we keep the work continuing and we don’t have any lapse in communication,” Twedt-Ball said. “We just had had two deaths last week. We know how important this is on a day-to-day basis to get it right every day, so we are very, very focused on making sure that GVI has every opportunity to prevent more deaths in the community.”
Rockwell said funding needs to come from multiple sources to sustain GVI in the long run, so she viewed her shift to Central City as a positive for the community by broadening the sources of funding.
Asked whether she was concerned Rockwell’s shift would split resources among the groups engaged in GVI, Twedt-Ball said this is coalition work.
“It is careful and methodical work to make sure that we keep all the pieces in balance, and that includes the funders — really working hard to make sure funders are aligned in what we’re funding — and also all of the partners to make sure that their work all mixes together into a cohesive whole,” Twedt-Ball said. “That will be a focus.”
‘Framework is in place’
Police Chief Wayne Jerman told The Gazette that the nonprofit Foundation 2 has two individuals on its staff in support and outreach roles who will continue to work with the police department “to convince individuals that activities that lead to violence is not the direction that we want them to go,” he said.
“I’m not concerned that any efforts are going to slip,” Jerman said. “ … The city’s committed to continuing to address the violence.”
With Rockwell’s move, it is too soon to understand how the organizations involved with GVI may change how they work in tandem, said Jerman and City Council member Dale Todd, chair of the council’s Public Safety and Youth Services Committee. They said there will be conversations with Community Foundation staff.
The city has contributed $300,000 across three payments to the Community Foundation related to the SET task force since 2018 when the SET Fund was created. Two other payments of $15,000 in 2020 and $47,671.12 in 2021 were made for outreach to individuals and families most likely to be affected by violence and for GVI, respectively.
The SET Fund in 2020 was awarded a grant of $465,000 over three years, doubling the money it had on hand at the time. In addition to allowing Rockwell to become a full-time employee on the fund, that anonymous donation provided technical assistance from the National Network for Safe Communities.
Todd said without having had conversations among the nine-member council, it’s too soon to say if the city would shift funding.
“If you can imagine seeds being planted and those seeds growing and working themselves into the community, then we are headed in the right direction,” Todd said. “ … The framework is in place, so now we have to address the issues of sustainability and leadership.”
GVI seeing early success
Rockwell’s move to the Central City group comes as the program is seeing early success with decreasing gun violence.
In 2021, the Cedar Rapids Police Department saw a 24.5 percent decrease in shots-fired reports, with 123 incidents reported last year compared with 163 in 2020.
According to Rockwell, GVI led to a 50-percent reduction in gun violence victimization rates for Black males ages 15 to 24 in Cedar Rapids from 2021 to 2019.
City officials believe the GVI efforts will continue to make a proven difference in reducing violence, despite two murders last week.
Cordal Lewis, 19, was found Jan. 27 fatally shot on 31st Street Drive SE. A bus driver found 22-year-old Kavon Johnson also shot to death at a park in the Rompot neighborhood the next morning. Court records show the two had been involved in a fight in 2020.
At a Monday public safety committee meeting, Jerman declined to offer details publicly on whether Lewis and Johnson had connected with GVI extensively or were new to the effort. He said from conversations with the National Network for Safe Communities that oversees GVI, “hiccups” are expected.
“There are going to be individuals and there’s going to be incidents that the GVI is not going to have the change in behavior that we would want,” Jerman said, but he remained “optimistic” in its overall direction.
Comments: (319) 398-8494; email@example.com