Members of the anti-violence Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and Safety Networks in Austin recapped their first-year successes at an advocacy lunch Wednesday, and although community stakeholders touted victories, they say much work is still needed to curb violence.
Sixty-five youth from the S.W.A.G, or Stand up, Win and Achieve your Goals, program attended the lunch, along with community representatives Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), state Rep. Camille Lilly (78th) and Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th).
Pastor Robbie Wilkerson of Austin Ceasefire kicked off the meeting with a pep talk.
He said across the city, about 27,000 youth were arrested last year by the Chicago Police Department.
A large percentage of those youth are homeless or share a house with many other family members like their grandparents, which is one root of the violence problem in Austin, Wilkerson said.
“One of the most embarrassing things for a young person, those that I’ve talked to, is the fact that we don’t have our own place,” Wilkerson said. “We gotta live with grandma.”
He said the young person’s objective when they have to share their bedroom and bathroom every day is to not be at home.
“When you decide that … there’s so much that they find themselves getting involved with,” he said.
“I was that same young man out on the street all day just looking for a better way … I’m thinking, I’ve got to do better.”
He said not all young people in the neighborhood are “messed up or bad” – most of them just want to do better.
However, to do better is difficult in Austin because of limited opportunities for sports, art and other extra-curricular activities.
“I’m fast and I’m athletic, but I can’t do better in my neighborhood,” he said. “I want to do better, but all the options they are throwing at me are not real options at all, because everything that I can do, I have to do it out of my community.”
He said the young person he alluded to is not a fictitious character.
“That’s the brother, that’s even the sister that’s right on your block, coming to your agency, stepping inside your grocery store, hanging out in the gas station,” Wilkerson said.
He called on the group to create more restorative justice opportunities, create more community-based programs for youth opportunities along with entrepreneurship classes, among others.
Gov. Pat Quinn created the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative in 2010 that provides funding for more programs Wilkerson mentioned.
Under the wing of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, the state and local collaboration program is in 20 regions of Chicago including Austin, East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale, along with three regions in the south suburbs.
The program aims to reduce violence and risk factors by creating jobs for the community and providing services to youth and adults, such as trauma-informed counseling, school support and case management, among others.
In Austin, Circle Family Healthcare Network is the lead agency responsible for managing the initiative and partnering with other local organizations to implement the program, according to information on the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority’s web site.
Dr. Andrè Hines, CEO of the Circle Family Healthcare Network, said the group has developed initiatives to help Austin do better.
“I agree with Pastor Wilkerson that somebody’s got to help these young folks to get on the right track, and I do know that they are trying to find their way,” she said. “It’s our responsibility as politicians, as residents, as leaders in the community, parents, teachers – whatever your role is we need to figure out how we can play a part.”
Jonathan Currie, lead coordinator at the Westside Health Authority who works with the Austin Safety Networks, said the coalition is engaging the community and waking up the youth to the violence and its “unacceptable continuation.”
The Austin Safety Networks has planned parties and field trips for youth, hired school safety patrollors and put together sports leagues, among other efforts. It has also provided case management and other counseling services free of charge to residents.
On example of the group’s efforts is the Peace Corner, a non-profit organization within the Austin Safety Network, which completed construction in 2011.
The Peace Corner has a computer lab, fully equipped classroom, a basketball court and is LEED certified.
“It continues to serve as a safe haven offering life-skills, GED programming and computer and job-prep classes,” said Currie.
A program called “mentoring plus jobs” was also created thanks to $400,000 from the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative program. More than 80 youth were able to have part-time jobs along with mentoring and emotional skills support.
The youth were required to talk with people in the Austin neighborhood and spread information about healthy, non-violent life choices.
Here are some more ways the state money was used in Austin.
For more information about Circle Family Healthcare Networks and other organizations part of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative efforts, click here.