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Friendship House revives the Peoria Peacekeepers Network

Friendship House.jpg
Collin Schopp
The Peoria Friendship House of Christian Service's location on Northeast Madison Avenue.

The Peoria Friendship House of Christian Service is reviving a program to help divert young people with misdemeanors away from violence.

The Peoria Peacekeepers Network is a restorative justice program bringing together young offenders with victims, family and community stakeholders to develop a plan to change their path.

“It’s important because, most of the time, they just get a slap on the wrist and this starts a file, it starts a caseload of things they actually have occurred or been involved in,” said Marcellus Sommerville, CEO of the Friendship House. “Usually, when they turn 18 they have a long list, a laundry list of minor offenses but it gets all reviewed and calculated. It’s in the judge’s hands, whereas this program is going to help erase some of those wrongs.”

Somerville says the program is a volunteer program, which means the youth participating have to admit fault. After the admission, they can be referred to the program by the Peoria Police Department or Peoria Public Schools. There is a limited number of offenses that apply for the program, like theft, property damage, disorderly conduct and drug possession.

“We could take on more in terms of higher level offenses,” said Sommerville. “But we’re currently in the state where we want to have minor offenses.”

After the referral, Sommerville says the victim and offender, as well as family and community representatives, are brought together at a meeting called the “peace circle.”

“It’s more like peer pressure, positive peer pressure on the person that’s offended,” said Sommerville. “Helping them better understand mentally what occurred during that process and how can we support both parties and help them come through the situation.”

Sommerville says the program originally handled around ten cases in 2012 but was ended due to a lack of funding.

“I think only two reoffended,” he said. “So that’s a great percentage rate in terms of helping kids divert away from violence.”

When the City of Peoria announced a round of funding for violence prevention programming, Sommerville and Friendship House saw an opportunity to help revive the program.

Friendship House applied for funding from the City of Peoria and received $221,234 of $700,000 awarded to organizations like Dream Center Peoria, the Peoria City/County Health Department, Goodwill Youth Services and Heart of Illinois Big Brother Big Sisters.

“On a professional note, of course, I want to see Peoria excel, do well. I want to restore the mindset of our youth in this community,” said Sommerville. “On a personal note, young man of ours that worked for Peoria Friendship House this summer and throughout last year was murdered. And he was only 18. So the process personally affects me more so than anything. My goal, mindset is to always, always help inspire and lift the community in terms of the youth, so it just made sense to apply.”

According to the application, Friendship House will use the funding to find an employee to oversee the Peoria Peacekeepers Network. It will also be used on transportation, supplies, an accountant to track the program’s use of funds and laptops and software to collect data on the program’s effectiveness. Sommerville says the data will be tracked using a framework similar to what the Peoria Police Department uses to track various crime statistics and demographics.

“If the program is working, if the process is going well for the individuals involved, you’ll also be able to see the outcome,” said Sommerville.

The program will not be actively promoting or advertising, as Sommerville says there’s a backlog of eligible juveniles that Friendship House will be starting with.

You can find more information about the Peoria Peacekeepers Network here and more information on the City of Peoria’s violence prevention funding here, including the full applications from all the organizations awarded funding.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.