Since 2019, the Creating Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities (SET) Fund has been making grants to a wide variety of programs and projects working to reduce youth violence in Cedar Rapids. This grantmaking has been built upon the work of the SET Task Force, which issued a report on the root causes of local gun violence in 2017. The City of Cedar Rapids, Linn County, and the Cedar Rapids Community School District came together to establish the SET Fund to pursue the report’s recommendations.
In the spring of 2020, however, the pandemic put a halt to most youth programming. There was some hope that social distancing guidelines would slow the tide of youth violence, but like many communities across the nation, Cedar Rapids quickly saw the opposite happen. With violence spiking and traditional programming suspended, the SET Fund and other local organizations had to rethink how to reach our youth.
In the summer months, SET grantees worked with nonprofit partners, local government, social services, and volunteers to launch the ReSET 2020 Youth & Family Challenge as a way for groups to adapt their work in helping families navigate the new challenges of 2020. Through anti-violence messaging from community leaders, regular check-ins from outreach teams, care packages, porch talks and incentives and awards for participating, ReSET was able to reach some of the youth and families most vulnerable to community violence.
“Giving voice to our youth and affected community members is more important now than ever,” said Rachel Rockwell, SET Program Officer at the Community Foundation. “All of the uncertainty of the past year has contributed to the violent behaviors. The SET Fund aims to create opportunities for young people, and 2020 showed us how important those opportunities are.”
At the same time, the SET Policy Committee was searching for a way to add a new level of coordination and collaboration to the efforts. To create a seamless network of care for those impacted by violence, the committee turned to the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) model, an evidence-based approach developed by the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC). The model interrupts the cycle of violence by concentrating on those who are at highest risk for violent victimization and/or offending and coordinating the work of law enforcement, social services, and community-based groups.
A $465,000 grant to the SET Fund, awarded in September through a competitive process by an anonymous funder, has helped bring the GVI model to Cedar Rapids. The effort was launched in November, and the NNSC will provide administrative support as local organizations learn and implement the strategies.
At the heart of the GVI model is a simple concept: no organization or group can end violence on their own, but together, we can make a real difference.
“Cities of all sizes across America have improved safety through this multi-sector approach, resulting in significant and measurable reductions in gun violence,” Rachel said. “Bringing organizations together to implement this model will be transformational.”