After securing a $500,000 state grant to prevent youth violence for the second consecutive year, the Elm City will use the funding to expand 23 existing youth programs.
Representatives from the Connecticut Judicial Branch elected to award the grant to New Haven to continue its violence prevention programs. However, for the first time this year, the state allowed the city’s Board of Alders to decide how to allocate the $500,000 among city organizations. In previous years, the state has made those decisions.
At a City Hall gathering yesterday celebrating the grant’s renewal, Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12 announced that the alders plan to allocate the funds toward addressing “at risk” youth, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mayor Toni Harp and State Representative Toni Walker also gave remarks, and a crowd of over 50 city officials, local activists and New Haven students were in attendance.
Over the past two and a half years, New Haven has received a total of $1.25 million from the judicial branch for youth violence prevention, including $250,000 for half of 2013 and $500,000 each for 2014 and 2015.
Bridgeport and Hartford, two other cities where youth violence is a major issue, will also receive grants to fund youth violence prevention programs, Walker said.
“The commitment we’ve made to reduce youth violence, improve public safety and peaceful streets in New Haven is ongoing,” Harp said. “The recent award of this most-welcome state grant will help underwrite some of this ongoing effort to provide programs and activities.”
The state’s judicial branch has awarded the grant to Connecticut cities since 2011. Since then, Walker has been in conversation with Harp about New Haven’s youth violence problem and has advocated for state assistance on behalf of the Elm City, Harp said. Walker added that the Connecticut incarceration rate for youths aged 18 to 24 has dropped 44 percent since the judicial branch’s grant was established.
Of the 23 New Haven-based programs that will receive aid this coming year, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Connecticut, the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees, Solar Youth, and LEAP, Inc. are the four organizations allocated the greatest proportion of money. Grant amounts range from $5,000 to $50,000.
Several programs focus on mentorship, create safe and fun environments for children outside of school and offer career training. Rebecca Bombero, director of the parks department, said the funding would allow her department to bring its Open Schools initiative — which offers after-school recreational activities to students — to four new schools and reach 200 additional youth.
“In a lot of ways, we are an extension of family […] we try to stay with them for as long as possible,” said Joanne Sciulli, founder and executive director of Solar Youth.
Though some programs plan to use the money solely to further previous projects, some organizations hope to create opportunities that were not previously as accessible. Sciulli said that, though in past years they focused on tackling current problems that youth face, in the upcoming year they plan on redirecting some of their attention to launch young people into adulthood, whether that means a career or college.
Yakieta Robinson, director of programs at LEAP, Inc. — devoted to developing youth leadership and advocacy skills which received two grants that total $60,000 — said the money would be used to expand several training initiatives, including a sexual education program.
“[LEAP] is a good opportunity to be able to learn more and go do things besides being in the house all day,” New Haven Academy sophomore Nazair Peters said. “I came to LEAP to work on my leadership skills.”
Peters, who has been with LEAP since he was 12, said he has noticed that the program has expanded to include more students and that the facilities have improved in the last two years. LEAP’s pool just reopened this year, he added.
The city has stepped up its game in an effort to create opportunities for youth in the city, according to Barbara Tinney, executive director of New Haven Family Alliance — an organization awarded $35,000 that supports at risk youth by engaging their family members. The program also aims to decrease juvenile incarceration by helping reframe and adjust youth behaviors.
Tinney said that many believe that not enough is being done for youth in the area, and that, though more can always be done, an important step is informing families about existing opportunities.
In 1993, the CDC established the Division of Violence Prevention as a division within National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.