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Peoria Cure Violence Initiative begins the hiring process

Cure Violence CEO Fredrick Echols (middle left) and Chief Program Officer Brent Decker (middle right) present the findings of the readiness assessment to the Board of Health and the public at a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the Peoria Public Library's downtown branch.
Collin Schopp
Cure Violence CEO Fredrick Echols (middle left) and Chief Program Officer Brent Decker (middle right) present the findings of the readiness assessment to the Board of Health and the public at a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023 at the Peoria Public Library's downtown branch.

Nearly two years after funding a Cure Violence pre-assessment passed on by the Peoria City Council, the Peoria City/County Health Department is searching for the first employees for the initiative.

Earlier this month, job descriptions and a Google form for interested applicants appeared on the Health Department's page for Cure Violence, specifically those from the approximately 6x6 block target area on Peoria's South Side.

Katy Endress, the Health Department director of Epidemiology and Clinical Services, says they're starting from the top with a program manager to provide oversight.

“The program manager is also monitoring the outcomes of the program,” she said. “There’s specific things that Cure Violence measures for each of their sites. So looking at how many conflicts are interrupted, how many participants are connected to those resources that they need.”

The program manager will also help oversee the use of funding for the program, though Endress says that will primarily be handled by South Side nonprofit partner House of Hope.

Below the program manager is a site supervisor, who reports directly to the program manager and works daily with the last two job types: violence interrupters and outreach workers.

“So the site supervisor is out with them in the community providing oversight,” Endress said. “And just [providing] guidance with whatever they need during their normal workday.”

Those last two positions are the workhorses of the Cure Violence program. Two outreach workers will help coordinate resources for area residents, while five violence interrupters will interact directly with the community. Their goal is to stop violence before situations escalate.

“They will receive training in de-escalation techniques and conflict mediation,” Endress said. “The key with this position, really, is hiring people who are from the neighborhood where the program is being implemented, so they already know where some of those tensions are. So they can get ahead of it, they can intervene, they can de-escalate. They’re viewed as credible messengers by the people who are involved in the violence.”

With the delicate nature of the role, hiring a violence interrupter can be tricky.

In an October 2022 interview with WCBU, Cure Violence CEO Fredrick Echols explained how the violence prevention program walks this tightrope. One strategy is a walk-through of the neighborhood with a candidate.

“Sometimes what people say behind closed doors doesn’t match the reality in the community,” Echols said. “So when we identify individuals who don’t have the proper credibility, we remove them from the hiring process completely.”

Endress says they haven't quite made it to evaluating violence interrupter candidates yet.

But, they have received around five applicants each for program managers and site supervisors. Every one of those candidates will go through a pre-interview with Endress and House of Hope CEO Terry Burnside before moving on to a full hiring panel.

Endress calls the process a "balancing act."

“Because, on one hand, you want to take your time so you’re not rushing things and you’re finding the right people,” she said. “But on the other hand, you have your funding that’s expiring. So we want to get those positions filled so we’re able to utilize the funding that we’ve received from the city.”

After initially declining the pre-assessment cost, the City of Peoria awarded more than $250,000 to the Peoria City/County Health Department for Cure Violence through violence prevention grants.

Endress says the current funding is set to expire in June, at the end of the fiscal year. And every dollar is going to count, because part of the Cure Violence model is making all of these positions viable full-time jobs. The organization requires minimum salaries of 40,000 dollars for the violence interrupters and outreach workers, with a 50,000 dollars minimum for the program manager and site supervisor.

There's been some initial interest in the positions, but Endress says she would still like to see more candidates. It's one more challenge to implementing Cure Violence after the program lost Peoria Community Against Violence as a partner after the organization went under last year.

But, Endress says, enthusiasm and engagement for the program is still high.

“So we’ve seen our fair share of barriers in implementation,” she said. “But we’re not discouraged. And I think a big part of that is the support we’ve received from the community. And just that everyone really wants to see this succeed.”

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