Austin nonprofits who work in violence prevention, youth intervention or youth development can now apply for state grants through the Illinois Office of Firearm Prevention.
Chris Patterson, assistant secretary for the Illinois Department of Human Services, invited Austin faith groups and nonprofit leaders to apply for grants at this month’s meeting 15th Police District faith-based meeting.
“We want to be able to fund violence prevention and youth development strategies, educate stakeholders and provide technical assistance,” Patterson said.
Patterson leads the newly created Illinois Office of Firearm Prevention as a result of the Reimagine Public Safety Act the legislature approved last year, part of a state-wide effort to end Illinois’ “firearm epidemic.”
The state office has committed about $25 million to fund community-led violence prevention programs in Austin and 32 other Chicago neighborhoods as well as 16 greater Chicago areas with the highest firearm victim counts and rates.
These communities have been identified as areas experiencing concentrated and perpetual firearm violence that affects residents, particularly teens and young people, who are chronically exposed to violence and related trauma.
Programs that provide mental health resources, economic opportunities and integrated behavioral health services to youth will be prioritized. In addition, programs that prevent high-risk youth from engaging in violence also will get priority.
To be eligible for the grants, community groups must meet specific requirements, which include being GATA-certified. Grants will award an average of $300,000 for a 12-month period.
Patterson said in each community there are technical assistance partners that will guide organizations through the grant application process. In Austin, organizations will be supported by What About Us, led by Dorin “Pastor Mac.”
“We don’t always do a great job of communicating and making sure [the] community knows what’s coming up the pipe,” Patterson said as he invited faith leaders to share the grant opportunities with community groups.
In other news, 15th District Commander Andre Parham recognized the importance of community-led interventions to reduce violence as he thanked faith leaders for their collaboration.
Parham said the number of shootings in Austin has dropped almost by 70% in the last 28 days and about 40%, as of July 2022 when compared to 2021.
He said in 2021, only two police districts in the city saw a reduction in homicides, with Austin being one of them, and that trend has continued in 2022 thanks to the efforts of community-based programs.
“Austin’s crime rates have been dropping historically low, and it’s getting a lot of attention from all over the place,” Parham said to faith leaders. “It’s the cultural change, it’s the cultural shift that you guys are spearheading.”
A series of community events that will take place this summer also were announced.
On July 23, the fourth annual community yard and vendor event will be held in the parking lot at 5802 W. Madison. Residents will find clothing, furniture, toys, books and gently-used items for sale, as well as free refreshments and entertainment.
On Aug. 2, the 15th District will celebrate the annual National Night Out with an event that brings police officers closer to community members. Refreshments and entertainment will be provided to residents, and the 15th District has invited community partners to share information and resources available to residents.
That night, Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District and the 15th District will simultaneously host a back-to-school bash, an event that will provide free school supplies to residents. Both events will take place at Moore Park, 5085 W. Adams St., from 5 to 7 p.m.
On Aug. 13, the 15th District will partner with 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts for a free community shred day event where residents can safely dispose of documents and records to prevent fraud or identity theft.
“We want you to be able to bring all documents that contain personable identifiable information such as your old bank statements, old tax returns, bills, receipts, credit card applications, medical records,” Officer Collins said.
Also at last week’s faith-based meeting, officer Martinez discussed programs available for youth led by 15th District officers.
Participants of the Explorers program will be able to participate in the third camping trip of the year on Labor Day weekend. “We take the youth out to a nice different atmosphere just giving them a chance to be kids in safe surroundings and learn all kinds of different skills,” Martinez said.
Every Monday, from 5 to 7 p.m. the youth mentorship group meets at the 15th District. The youth group is creating a podcast to change the narrative about Austin and wants to partner with community organizations to share the work they’re doing through the podcast and social media.
Martinez asked community-based organizations to invite young participants to their events so they can conduct interviews and produce content for the podcast.
“They’re tired of the name of Austin being generated with drugs and guns, so they want to change the narrative,” he said.
Youth also can participate every week in “hip hop Tuesdays” from 12 to 4 p.m., also at the 15th District.
To learn more about the Reimagine Public Safety Act grants, visit the Illinois Office of Firearm Prevention website. Groups interested in being GATA-certified, can visit the Greater Accountability Transparency Act website.
For questions about the 15th District’s upcoming activities, stop by 5701 W. Madison St. or call (312) 743-1495.