Features | Autumn 2011
City and Church Unite to Prevent Youth Violence
By Mariko Lockhart, Director of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative
In 2008, five youth were tragically shot and killed in the city of Seattle by other youth. This was the breaking point for a community that had seen levels of youth violence stay constant while other crime rates sank to all-time lows. Community residents demanded action.
Mayor Greg Nickels responded by dispatching an interagency team to reach out to the community and to research how other cities around the country were reducing youth violence. The result was a comprehensive, community-based plan known as the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, which combines proven strategies with innovative grassroots services.
Each of the strategies funded by the Initiative provides an important component to a holistic approach. These strategies include a community-based referral system in three focus neighborhoods, employment and work readiness training, case management, mentoring, recreation, school-emphasis police officers, aggression replacement training, and youth projects that are locally developed and funded by community matching grants.
The Initiative has set ambitious goals to be a national leader in reducing youth violence by aiming for a 50 percent reduction in juvenile court referrals for violence, along with a 50 percent reduction in suspensions and expulsions from selected middle schools due to violence-related incidents.
In order to maximize the impact of allocated resources, the Initiative focuses on the three Seattle neighborhoods most affected by youth violence. Accordingly, the community-based leadership for the Initiative, known as Neighborhood Networks, is spearheaded in the southeast by King County Boys and Girls Club-Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse at Rainier Vista, in the Central area by Therapeutic Health Services, and in the southwest by Southwest Youth & Family Services.
Youth at risk of perpetuating or being a victim of violence are referred to one of the three Neighborhood Networks by schools, community agencies, parents, school-emphasis officers, street outreach workers, and others.
Caring and dedicated staff members at these Neighborhood Networks refer the youth to appropriate programs and services that are part of the city’s investment. Network staff also develop community partnerships and work with other Initiative service providers to ensure that the young people stay engaged in pro-social activities and make positive choices.
The Initiative enrolls youth who are 12 to 17 years old, live or go to school in central, southeast, or southwest Seattle, and meet the criteria for one of the following focus populations:
- Youth who have been convicted of violent offenses and released.
- Youth who have been arrested but not detained.
- Middle-school students at risk of chronic truancy or multiple suspensions due to violent behavior.
- Victims of violence and their friends and associates who may be at risk of retaliation.
Once funding and contracted services were in place, Initiative leadership and partners started to spread the word to schools, youth service providers, and community groups to inform them about the Initiative’s focus and available services. Soon, youth were being referred by the hundreds, leading to our current enrollment of more than 1,100 youth.
With just two years under our belt, the Initiative is becoming established in the three focus neighborhoods and the neighborhood networks are becoming the “go to” places for support for youth at risk of violence. Youth are even referring themselves and their friends. Many agencies and individuals have come forward to be a part of this “village” approach to helping our most vulnerable youth. Among these have been local faith-based institutions, who are key stakeholders in creating the needed safety net.
Critical Partners: The Faith-Based Community
In the southeast, Neighborhood Network staff members Heidi Henderson-Lewis and Marty Patu are supporting the local community’s efforts to create a faith-based partnership. This priority was raised earlier this year during the Meeting of the Minds, a dynamic process created by this network to get input from the community.
This signature event is held annually as a daylong series of community dialogues, structured in a way that allows individuals to rotate into the conversation any time during the day and provide their ideas and feedback to network staff and others. A faith-based action team was developed out of a powerful and courageous conversation about how to mobilize the faith community to reduce youth violence and work in partnership to address this community problem.
The faith-based group explored the root causes of youth violence and came to the conclusion that there are many voids in young people’s lives at the heart of this problem — including a spiritual void. The action team decided to focus on this area through specific activities, including prayer walks in affected areas to raise awareness and demonstrate the community’s commitment to its youth.
These walks may be held in different neighborhoods and at different times of the day depending on participants’ availability and the need (e.g., safe passage to/from school, nighttime safety, etc.). Another service provided by the action team is training on youth violence for the faith community, including the causes of youth violence, what can be done about it, and how faith ministries can act strategically on this issue.
Southeast network staff note that many youth in their community have faith in their backgrounds and may want a faith-based referral when they join the Initiative. The faith-based collaborative is working to make that possible. “By aligning our faith-based partners with the goals of reducing youth violence, we can be powerful,” says Southeast network coordinator Henderson-Lewis. Her slogan is “Together we are better.” This concept aptly synthesizes the developing partnership between the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and the faith-based community.
SYVPI Neighborhood Networks
To find out more about the SYVPI Neighborhood Networks and get involved, contact:
Southeast Network: King County Boys and Girls Club – Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse at Rainier Vista (formerly Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club)
Network Coordinator: Heidi Henderson-Lewis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Intake and Referral Specialist: Marty Patu (email@example.com)
Mariko Lockhart is the director of the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and an experienced nonprofit executive, consultant, facilitator, and trainer. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Yale University and holds a master’s degree in public administration from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
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