116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There were 415 violent crimes in Cedar Rapids in 2020, the highest number the city has seen since 2008, according to a report compiled by the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Included in that are 163 incidents of shots fired – almost 60 percent more than the four-year average starting in 2017.
Kat Bevins hopes to do something about those numbers.
An advocate for restorative justice, Bevins has spent the last 20 years working with youth, families and community leaders to provide resources and opportunities to youth and families who struggle. And, she said, she’s just getting started.
“Here in the Cedar Rapids area we’re working in strong partnership with law enforcement, really trying to build a bridge between the community and law enforcement that sends a unified message to our young people that the violence has to stop,” Bevins said. “We want all of our youth safe and alive and out of prison, we want them to know that we love them. We are here to provide services and supports they and their friends and families may need.”
“Ultimately, though, the violence has got to stop,” she said.
Bevins, 40, followed a non-traditional route to her passion for restorative justice – the practice of repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior by getting victim and perpetrator together. After graduating high school she studied art education in college and became an art teacher; one of her first jobs was at Metro High School in Cedar Rapids, an alternative high school with the tag, “Metro: mastering educational tasks regardless of obstacles.”
“I was 21 years old and I was at Metro High School and it was when I just kind of fell in love with working with youth who had non-traditional situations and struggles,” Bevins said.
Bevins has a knack for conversation and getting people to feel comfortable, something that’s not always easy for an educated white woman working with struggling youth and families of different ethnicities and backgrounds.
“I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, which is a little more diverse than Cedar Rapids,” she explained. “I don’t know if that explicitly impacted me and my ability to work with folks who maybe don’t look like me or have the same background as me, but that’s never been something that’s been uncomfortable for me. Regardless of a person’s background or what they look like, I’ve always seen my role as elevating people’s voices or working to understand where other people are coming from, trying to figure out how to ensure that everyone’s voice is at the table when decisions are being made.”
That’s especially true of the youth she works with, she said. Teens often have a hard time being heard, and it’s even more difficult for struggling teens.
“Many of the young people that I've worked with over the years were parenting or pregnant, had a significant trauma, whether it be witnessing violence or experiencing violence themselves. Maybe they had issues at home where there wasn't enough food or there wasn't an adult at home, a person who for whatever reason wasn't able to take on that traditional parenting role,” Bevins said. “Sometimes the families of our young people are also in need of assistance; that was something that I definitely learned in teaching at Metro – you’re supporting the whole child and the whole family. And I think that's naturally how I ended up to where I'm at.”
Where she’s at right now is working as director of program delivery and transformation at Central City Development Corporation (CCDC) as well as serving as program coordinator of ReSET Cedar Rapids. CCDC is a statewide organization working within communities to help with revitalization through change, providing training and resources to residents and organizations to “transform the spaces we serve within.”
ReSET Cedar Rapids is the result of a collaboration with Linn County Public Health and Rachel Rockwell, program officer of Creating SET (Safe, Equitable, and Thriving) Communities, which works to reduce youth violence. The collaboration started in 2019, but the pandemic in 2020 forced everyone into their homes.
That didn’t stop Bevins and Rockwell.
“We had been meeting to discuss what the next steps would be in trying to reduce violence, and then COVID hit,” Bevins said. “Rachel and I began to connect on social media. We knew Linn County Public Health now had their hands full but we wanted to keep this moving forward.”
Rockwell had already started working on a plan based on a violence intervention model, while Bevins had been working on ideas revolving around restorative justice.
“We added the ‘Re’ to SET and it became ‘Restoring a Safe, Equitable, and Thriving Cedar Rapids,’ or ‘ReSET,’” Bevins said.
They spent 2020 doing street outreach, working to put the community component in place, and this year they have put that model to use. A large component, Bevins said, is the law enforcement partnership.
“That strong partnership with law enforcement has been a game-changer for us,” she said. “We're working every day with young people who are making the decision to do something different with their lives, and we have a team of outreach workers that are just phenomenal in this community. The goal of this kind of interim position is that we can get the systems in place and get things moving. This is about coalition, it's about all of us working together.”
It’s the same theme she’s working under at CCDC, where she said a foundational principle is helping youth and families develop a sense of hope.
“If you have hope you can always look forward, you can always set goals,” she said. “It’s when you lose hope that it becomes hard to make good decisions or move forward.”