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Cure Violence Peoria chips away at operating on the South Side

Peoria City/County Health Department's Katy Endress (left) and Cure Violence Peoria South Side Program Director Alisha Wells in the WCBU studio.
Collin Schopp
Peoria City/County Health Department's Katy Endress (left) and Cure Violence Peoria South Side Program Director Alisha Wells in the WCBU studio.

July will mark two years since the Peoria City/County Health Department first took up the funding for Cure Violence, a nonprofit emphasizing communication and intervention to end gun violence.

Currently, the program is focused on a roughly six-by-six block target area on Peoria's South Side. East Bluff resident Alisha Wells is the area's newly hired program director.

“My entire life has been committed to acts of service, giving back to the community, lot of volunteer work with the Peoria Friendship House growing up,” she said. “I also was a 911 dispatcher for 10 years.”

Wells says her experience as a dispatcher is essential for her new role.

“I definitely learned to be the calm in the midst of a storm, that’s exactly where I shine at,” she said. “In the midst of the chaos is when I’m gonna be the calmest and speak with a cool head and de-escalate situations.”

In her capacity as program director, Wells will oversee five violence interrupters, doing work directly intervening in situations that could lead to gun violence, and two Outreach Workers, who help connect people in the community with resources to get out of potentially violent situations.

Read more: Cure Violence CEO explains the prevention program that could come to Peoria

The work has personal significance for Wells.

“A cousin of mine was murdered a few years ago,” she said. “And also recently, one of my childhood best friends, her son was murdered, MikeQuese Taylor.”

Katy Endress, director of Epidemiology and Clinical Services at the Peoria City/County Health Department, says Wells was selected by a carefully assembled hiring panel. The group includes representatives from the Peoria Park District and the Proctor Center, Manual High School's Principal and a Community Officer from the Peoria Police Department.

Endress says Terry Burnside, CEO of House of Hope, which is partnered to implement the program, is also the site supervisor.

“The site supervisor is responsible for overseeing the staff, the team that is out on the streets everyday,” she said. “We’re looking at a shift of 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. That’s based on data that was analyzed by the crime analyst with the Peoria Police Department as being the most high risk for gun violence within our focus area.”

From her former dispatcher position in Lake and Cook Counties, Wells is no stranger to long, odd hours and outreach programs.

“We created several programs that were a part of giving back and connecting, basically bridging the gap between the community and police department and creating new social norms,” she said.

With a clearer picture of the team and operations forming in the South Side target area, Wells says they are doubling down on efforts to recruit and get the program started as soon as possible.

“We’ve conducted several pre-screening and walkthroughs with several amazing candidates,” she said. “We’re actually starting, we’re going to move forward with the process to the interview stage.”

Wells expects interviews to start this week.

As temperatures rise, people are spending more time outside. Wells acknowledges summer is likely the time where the Cure Violence program would be the most active. While she's eager to get going, she says it's critical to find the right team.

“Obviously, that’s a process. So we want to make sure we’re not rushing just to start and then we don’t have the proper people,” Wells said. “So, we’re doing our due diligence to make sure we go through the proper channels and follow the model so that the people we hire are going to be part of making this program successful.”

Wells says she believes the program has the potential to make a difference in Peoria and in the lives of families just like hers.

“It is for the community, by the community,” she said. “The community is going to have a voice in the things that we feel is necessary to stop some of the violence that is going on in the area. And I feel like, what better way to approach it than to get an understanding from the community.”

There's also a Cure Violence site planned for a section of Peoria's East Bluff neighborhood. That remains on hold, after the closure of partner organization Peoria Community Against Violence.

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