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Peoria awarded $700,000 in violence prevention funding last year; here's how it's being used

Dream Center Peoria is one of the five organizations that received a piece of $700,000 in violence prevention funding from the City of Peoria late last year.
Collin Schopp
Dream Center Peoria is one of the five organizations that received a piece of $700,000 in violence prevention funding from the City of Peoria late last year.

Peoria is investing heavily in reducing gun violence and juvenile crime through the organizations that call the city home. In October, 12 organizations applied to receive money for violence prevention programs as part of a competitive application process.

Five were selected, including: Dream Center Peoria, the Peoria City/County Health Department, Goodwill Youth Services, Peoria Friendship House and Heart of Illinois Big Brothers and Big Sisters.With their grants in hand, the groups are working hard to get new programs off the ground in 2023 and apply the money to ongoing programs targeting Peoria’s youth.

One of the new programs is a full-time mental health position at Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois.

“The program is called Revive,” said Youth Program Manager Lydsie Gravemier. “And the position is a youth mental health advocate. So that's someone who can go out into the community and perform several different functions, raise awareness about mental health and violence prevention, as well as working directly with youth and their families who have needs related to that.”

Children already are fundamental to Goodwill’s mission, Gravemier said, noting the agency works with about 500 youth each year through programs like after-school clubs, mentoring, GED support and workforce development. But mental health is an important addition.

“We've been seeing a trend for several years with the need for youth mental health support being on the rise. And I think the pandemic definitely exacerbated that,” Gravemier said. “And so I think that this will be absolutely game-changing and how we're able to serve the youth of Peoria.”

She said it was exciting to see mental health as an included category in the city’s funding application process.

“When you look at youth who might be in juvenile detention centers, the overlap between that and youth with mental health needs is just staggering,” she said. “Obviously there's a lot of facets that have to take place to really tackle community violence, but I think that the mental health piece is crucial.”

Goodwill received just under $80,000 for the program and is currently searching for a suitable candidate to be the full-time mental health advocate.

The Peoria Friendship House of Christian Service is another organization focusing violence prevention efforts on juveniles. President and CEO Marcellus Sommerville said the program, Peoria Peacekeepers’ Network, operates on a principle called “restorative justice.”

“Restorative justice is an approach to justice where one of the representatives to a crime organizes a meeting between a victim and an offender,” said Sommerville.

Eligible juveniles who admit to committing minor misdemeanors, can opt into Peoria Peacekeepers and undergo meetings with law enforcement, parents, community leaders and the victim or victims of their crime. Sommerville said the goal of the program is to catch kids early and divert them from any future violence. It’s a revival of the Peacekeepers’ original run in 2012.

“They had 10 cases, I believe it was, and the rate of it was really, really well,” Sommerville said. “I think only two re-offended. So, that’s a great percentage rate in diverting kids away from violence.”

The program received just over $220,000 in funding from the City of Peoria. Somerville said there’s a considerable backlog of eligible juveniles for the program to start working with immediately.

You can read more about Peoria Peacekeepers here.

The Heart of Illinois Big Brothers and Big Sisters also used its funding to begin clearing out a backlog. President Jami Truelove said the organization will use its $100,000 grant to bring on 70 more mentor/child pairs, starting with clearing a 60-child waiting list.

“We currently serve over 200, pre-COVID we were about 400,” said Truelove. “So we’re building back up to that point, but this is a large expansion for our youth mentoring program.”

Truelove agreed with Gravemier and Sommerville that starting with juveniles plays a vital role in violence prevention.

“Just talking through things that are going on in their life,” she said. “It’s really easy to sit down and help them write out their goals and talk about things that are going on at home or at school and be that other voice for them.”

Across the city in the offices of Dream Center Peoria, another violence prevention program for youth mentoring is moving forward with $50,000 in funding. The DCP Youth program provides mentoring and trade learning opportunities for 10- to 18-year-olds in areas like small motor repair, carpentry, 3-D printing and electronic engineering.

Youth Director Robbie Criss said the trades program creates schedule and structure for kids who might not find support otherwise.

This carpentry studio at the Dream Center Peoria is one of several studios where kids learn electric engineering, 3-D printing, small motor repair and more.
Collin Schopp
This carpentry studio at the Dream Center Peoria is one of several studios where kids learn electric engineering, 3-D printing, small motor repair and more.

“If I’ve got to be up at six o’ clock in the morning to meet Mr. Rob at the garage, I need to be in bed at eight o’ clock, nine o’ clock, what does that do?” said Criss about the young learners. “I might not be out stealing somebody’s car at night, or breaking into somebody’s house at night. So, now the whole narration can change easily when we get more things going.”

Office manager Michelle Luthor said the funding also will help pay with rising transportation costs for the mentoring program, as well as assist facilitate partnerships with other nonprofits, like May I Community Outreach.

“We just know that, in order for our community to be able to thrive, and for our kids to be able to be taken care of in the way that they need to, we all have to work together,” said Luthor. “And there’s no way around it.”

The final funding recipient is the Peoria City/County Health Department that received $250,000 to further its contract with the Chicago-based organization, Cure Violence.

Since October, Cure Violence has been performing a four-step pre-assessment in Peoria, planning out the best way to implement their program. In an interview during the early assessment period in October, Cure Violence CEO Fredrick Echols said the program is reliant on finding “interrupters” in a community and treating violence as a pandemic in one to two specific locations.

“Most importantly, the individuals who live in the community play a critical role,” he said. “So, our approach is also focused on keeping the community front and center and making sure they have a voice as this critical work is implemented in their neighborhood.”

You can read more about how Cure Violence works and hear CEO Echols’ interview here.

The funding will help provide Cure Violence's chosen community interrupters with training and resources. As of the last update, Peoria City/County Health Department officials said the pre-assessment report and implementation plan from Cure Violence should be available to the public soon. It was originally expected to be available in late November, but was delayed.

According to city officials, an additional $500,000 from an Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity violence reduction grant will go toward funding a second round of programming in 2023. Organizations that applied and didn’t receive awards in the first round could find another opportunity there later this year.

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