Tracking the success of anti-violence efforts is tricky

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG)- The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation’s deadline for the next round of “Safe, equitable and thriving” or SET funds is rapidly approaching, but those who decide which nonprofits receive the money say they don’t have data to support success from the first rounds of funds.

Tracking the success of anti-violence efforts is tricky

The SET Task Force started in 2015 in response to a shooting at Redmond Park in the Wellington Heights neighborhood. 14-year-old Robert Humbles shot and killed Aaron Richardson who was 15 at the time. Humbles was charged with 1st-degree murder.

The task force looked to curb youth violence. The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation formed the SET grant in 2018 and awarded $40 thousand to 8 applicants in the spring of 2019.

1) African American Museum of Iowa- Humanize My Hoodie-$6,600
2) Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids -Junior Staff Academy-$5,130
3) Eastern Iowa African Diaspora-Youth Development Program-$4,000
4) Eastern Iowa Arts Academy-It Takes a Village Mural Project-$2,643
5) Jane Boyd Community House-Challenge Camp-$6,547
6) Kids First Law Center-Youth Restorative Justice-$4,814
7) LBA Foundation-Professional Customer Service Workshop-$5,000
8) Tanager Place-Glenbrook Apartments Drop-In Program-$5,266

The organization is nearing the end of the application deadline for funding next year of $120 thousand. Including salaries, that’s more than $200 thousand being used to curb gun violence.

“Where's the numbers that show how this is going to benefit,” said Veronica Johnson.

Johnson lives in the Wellington Heights neighborhood and opens her home to anyone who needs a safe place to go.

“They need to be comfortable somewhere,” Johnson said. “They need a safe place to go and I will do whatever I can.”

Johnson wasn’t happy with how the first round of funding was spent. She said the youth need a more lasting program such as a basketball court, music studio and a boxing/wrestling area.

“There’s more they could have done to catch more kids,” she said.

The SET Grant Committee selects the organizations to receive the money. They must meet one of the following criteria.
1. Youth (up to age 25) development of skills and resilience to avoid, reduce, or stop high-risk behaviors that can lead to involvement with the criminal justice system
2. Systemic causes of economic, racial, and academic disparities
3. Community-based supports to reduce violence in schools & neighborhoods
4. Academic achievement by reducing rates of school suspension, expulsion, and referrals to law enforcement, with a particular emphasis on students of color
5. Adults and youth who are or have been involved in the criminal justice system in order to reduce recidivism or incidence of reoffending

When it comes to the money being put to good use, the SET Grant Committee said it’s hard to track the success of the funds.

“We haven’t seen the data yet,” said Ashley Vanorney, a member of the SET Grant Committee.

Vanorney said tweaks are being made in the requirements to get the money but experts with the Prevention Institution in California said the plan the city has in place is a good one.

“Where we are seeing the biggest improvement is where there’s a plan in place,” said Executive Director Rachel Davis. “What we see is that when there is an investment, violence rates come down.”

Davis said youth violence needs to be treated as a public health issue. She said tracking success is more than looking at shots fired numbers and youth arrests but also graduation rates, employment and engagement.

People like Johnson, however, who help young people said kids need a more lasting and safe place to go.

“Right now I feel like our youth don’t have a place to go,” he said.

A planning session to look at what worked with engaging youth will be held on August 19th. Those with the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation said they hope to have applicants that have more evidence-based research practices around violence intervention.