After four years of discussions, meetings and a fair amount of political wrangling, dollars from the Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities Fund are being put in action this summer in Cedar Rapids.
It’s been a long road since the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old by a 14-year-old in 2015 jolted the city and prompted residents and community leaders to start talking about what could be done to stem a rising tide of youth violence. That led to the formation of the SET Task Force, which produced a stack of recommendations in 2017. Then came the long debate over how best to make sure SET recommendations would not gather dust.
It wasn’t until November that the city of Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids Community School District and Linn County signed an agreement putting the effort under the watch of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, which is administering a $225,000 annual grant program funded by local governments. The city and county are each contributing $100,000 annually over three years with the school district contributing $25,000.
“We collectively are excited about the work that has been done,” Les Garner, President and CEO of the Community Foundation, told our editorial board. “Our objective in putting this grant program together has been to come up with long-term solutions that will help reduce youth violence in the community. And we believe the way we do that is not with episodic responses but by a building a systematic response, by building networks of organizations dealing with many different issues.”
This summer’s smaller, $40,000 round of grants went to efforts by eight organizations to provide programs, support and activities through the summer months for youth and young adults disproportionately affected by violence. One example, “Humanize my Hoodie,” brought together students from Metro High School and the African American Museum of Iowa.
This fall, a second, more ambitious $120,000 round of grants will be awarded. Meetings have been scheduled this summer to educate potential applicants on community conditions, evidence-based violence interventions working in other cities and on opportunities for community collaboration.
“We really are interested in programs that look at youth and how they make decisions and build skills that will either help them avoid getting involved with the justice system or to stop being involved,” said Rachel Rockwell, SET program officer with the foundation. “We really want to look at systems that are causing racial, economic or academic disparities.”
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It’s heartening that some progress is, at long last, being made on SET initiatives. We’re hopeful its broad, collaborative approach, with a welcome emphasis on evidence-based efforts, will score successes. We’re under no illusion those successes will come quickly or easily.
The community and its leaders must be in this for the long haul. Our local elected officials now and in the future must be committed this effort, and to providing both leadership and resources. There’s no more important role for government than keeping its neighborhoods and young people safe.
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