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Peoria Park District Violence Prevention Programs Expanding, Thanks To Additional State Grant Funding

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth File photo
Tim Shelley
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth File photo

The Peoria Park District and Elite Youth Outreach now have additional funds for violence prevention initiatives.

Illinois state Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth announced at Trewyn Pavilion a state grant totaling $1.35 million for the park district.

“It is really important that the message gets out that there are tons of quality programs [and] quality activities,” Rep. Gordon-Booth said. “Some of the most beautiful facilities that you’ll see in this city belong to the park district. The park district has opened their doors with open arms and we want the citizens of Peoria to walk through them.”

Park district Executive Director Emily Cahill says the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority raised the initial $700,000 investment after a productive first year.

“In our first year of programming, we were able to serve 125 students in our after-school programing at Proctor,” Cahill said. “Another 147 students with our Elite programming here at Trewyn Pavilion....23 adults participated in our Elite Re-Entry classes [and] 225 youth were served through subsidized sports programming.”

Cahill says last year over 2,000 youth and families participated in programs against violence. Within that number contains 52 students a part of the ELITE outreach program.

ELITE founder Carl Cannon, says the year-old Elite Game Changers program, where vetted elite graduates are paired with at-risk youth, allows for the streets to heal the streets.

“At the beginning of the summer, somebody said they were the youth most likely to fail because they were in danger of being retained,” Cannon said. Cannon invited around 20 students behind the podium to showcase the program and one area youth spoke about their efforts allowing them to fly like an eagle in their future.

Unfortunately, the homicide total in 2021 has been soaring too. Representative Gordon-Booth spoke about recent violence as the city marked its 20th homicide this past weekend.

“For so many families across this community this summer has been a really tortuous summer for some of these families,” Rep. Gordon-Booth said. “I will tell you oftentimes on the news we hear about the homicide rate potentially being an all-time high. But I will tell you for the families whether it is double digits or single digits the trauma and the pain [are] the same.”

During the Q&A portion of the press conference, Rep. Gordon-Booth mentioned the cost of violence including investigations and court cases - though she said sometimes cases never reach the courthouse. In the end, the cost of homicides to Rep. Gordon-Booth is $1.3 million, the same amount as the grant.

Supervisor of Community Connections Peter Kobak says the park district is utilizing the additional funds for two new initiatives - one of them is the Summer of Fun program.

Over 12,000 passes were given to students and their families for free access to park district facilities including the zoo and playhouse museum.

“Since we started this promotion we’ve seen over 1,400 trips to these facilities,” Kobak said. “Both students and families who’ve taken the opportunity to spend time at our facilities where they’re safe, engaged, and their learning new things.”

Additionally, a free park district shuttle will run every Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm from six locations. The Summer of Fun events and transportation will end in late September.

Looking ahead Kobak mentions the district set aside $210,000 for student employees.

“We also are piloting a very large youth workforce development program... to recruit students from middle school, high school, and community colleges who come from high crime and at-risk neighborhoods and schools,” Kobak said. “Gain experience and earn a paycheck with the Peoria Park District. Part-time jobs and internships expose participants to a range of carrier opportunities in the field of parks and recreation.”

Including community recreation coordinators who will go across the community to high-need neighborhoods to engage with residents.

“Make sure no one is falling through the cracks. No one is falling through the gaps, and that everyone has access to our facilities and programs,” Kobak said.

Brady started as WCBU's Audio Operations Coordinator in 2022. Brady is a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.