Government

City, county, schools join effort to address youth violence in Cedar Rapids

C.R. Community Foundation provides boost in getting effort going

Community members participate in a November 2017 education subcommittee discussion as part of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force. The task force became a reality Tuesday, with Cedar Rapids, Linn County and the Cedar Rapids school district agreeing to a three-year funding plan aimed at addressing youth violence in the community. The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation will oversee the funding and grants addressing the problem and its root causes. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Community members participate in a November 2017 education subcommittee discussion as part of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force. The task force became a reality Tuesday, with Cedar Rapids, Linn County and the Cedar Rapids school district agreeing to a three-year funding plan aimed at addressing youth violence in the community. The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation will oversee the funding and grants addressing the problem and its root causes. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — City, county and school district officials, after nearly a year of discussions, have agreed to establish a new position and grant program intended to address root causes of youth violence in Cedar Rapids, as defined by the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force.

The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation will play a key role in the effort.

The foundation will oversee a $225,000 a year fund, which includes at least $150,000 to be awarded through grants and up to $59,000 for administrative costs, including the new part-time program officer.

“We are hopeful that we can help the community operate as a system to accomplish the goals of the SET Task Force, to consider what kind of interventions could be valuable, and to engage new people,” said Karla Twedt-Ball, senior vice president of programs and community investment at the Community Foundation.

Under the plan, which the Cedar Rapids City Council approved Tuesday, the city and Linn County each contribute $100,000 a year and the Cedar Rapids Community School District contributes $25,000 a year. The intention is for a three-year commitment at those levels.

An 11-person policy committee and an 11-person grant committee will be formed to define the process and parameters and guide the granting process.

The foundation intends to post a job description for a part-time program officer in the coming weeks. The person would review grant applications, work with community partners to develop meaningful applications, and potentially identify other outside funding sources to augment the fund, Twedt-Ball said.

“Our community is taking a huge step in continuing the work of the SET Task Force and carrying it forward into the future,” she added.

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Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, co-chairman of the SET Task Force, has been a driving force in getting the initiative off the ground.

Nineteen stakeholders from the city, county, school, religious groups, service providers, law enforcement and others made up the task force to study youth gun violence and poverty after the shooting death of Aaron Richardson, 15, in September 2015. A rash of additional teen-involved shootings brought more attention.

Walker described the plan as a long time coming but cautioned citizens to be patient with results. He noted he has “supreme confidence” in the role of the Community Foundation, which has expertise in managing grants.

“Now that a coalition has been formed, we have to continue to learn and work together to impact our community,” Walker said. “Ultimately, this program will be a grant-making program where we will be looking at existing nonprofits doing this work and try to scale it or asking nonprofits to address issues we think need attention.”

The SET Task Force identified strategies to address systemic causes of youth violence and released a final report with several recommendations in February 2017.

It identified key components as safe and stable housing, improved educational outcomes and economic opportunities, and conflict resolution skills.

For nearly a year, local officials have been negotiating Walker’s proposal to create a position to implement the recommendations. In the meantime, work has been done on several fronts to address recommendations.

The fund is not intended to supplant existing initiatives but to collaborate with service providers and entities to maximize resources and identify gaps, according to the city.

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“This is a big deal,” said Cedar Rapids council member Dale Todd, who will serve on the policy committee. “Three agencies for the first time are truly working together to get to the root of poverty and violence in our neighborhoods.”

In a news release, Cedar Rapids schools Superintendent Brad Buck said he feels “this next phase will help to provide a sustained and focused effort.”

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz, in the release, credited how “many organizations and individuals have come together to develop this plan, with the common goal of providing support and improving the lives of residents in our community.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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