Archbishop of Chicago Francis Cardinal George, honorary chair of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, confers with Gary Slutkin, MD, director, and Jonathan Levine, midwest regional director of the American Jewish Committee and Chicago Project Advisory Board member.

It’s common sense, almost instinctive, for people to come together when facing the threat of violence. But violence today isolates a community._The fear that keeps people apart exists in parking lots, on street corners, in schools, and in homes._It’s there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And it stifles the very resources for building safer neighborhoods.

The Chicago Project for Violence Prevention at the UIC School of Public Health has been working to change that. Since 1995, project representatives have been forging strategic partnerships with leading community organizations in seven of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. Each of these seven partner groups, in turn, works with up to forty other community organizations, along with neighborhood residents.

The network is strengthened through relationships with schools, hospitals, shelters, law enforcement officials, religious organizations, criminal justice professionals, and social service groups.And its capabilities are enhanced through the expertise of leaders in understanding family violence, drug violence, child abuse, gun violence, epidemiology, risk reduction, and mental health.

With the infrastructure in place, the work has begun. Under the direction of Gary Slutkin, MD, professor in the School of Public Health’s Epidemiology and Biostatistics Division, the Chicago Project staff members guide community organizations through a process of defining target areas for violence reduction, planning violence prevention strategies, identifying existing model programs for violence reduction, and adapting them to specific community needs. They help with identification of funding sources to ensure staffing and implementation of the violence prevention initiatives. They also assist in the evaluation process, provide training and education, and coordinate inter-community and inter-agency communications forums.

"These are very high-risk communities, totaling about a half million people. Collectively, they account for nearly 40 percent of homicides in Chicago," says Slutkin._"Our goal is to guide the multiple agencies in a very focused way to address youth violence, gang violence, family and partner violence, elder abuse, sexual assault and rape, and child abuse._The agencies work together to support our community strategies."

Thus far, the Chicago Project has worked with these communities to establish citizen patrols, link former gang members with jobs, and initiate a domestic violence intervention training program. Some high schools are remaining open in the evening. Police and community residents are clearing violence "hot spots." And female victims of violence are finding shelters and safe havens. Additional initiatives, throughout these communities, are still in the development stages.

"Working with the Chicago Project, we came up with a plan to reduce gang and drug violence. And, now, in order to implement that plan, we have asked them to help us find funding support," says Kattia Cuba, violence prevention program specialist at the Alliance of Logan Square Organizations. "We want to put together a violence intervention team to work with the police department to identify victims and perpetrators. Our budget for this project is close to a half million dollars._The Chicago Project also asked us to come up with other budgets for future projects—our ‘dream sheet’—so they could match us to the appropriate funding sources."

Beyond serving as a resource for planning and support, the Chicago Project enhances the skills and capabilities of its community partners through the Intercommunity Forum._This monthly meeting, which rotates among the seven communities, brings together the violence prevention program managers and staff from each of the partner communities. Participants share information on their projects, talking about what works and what doesn’t._They build on each other’s experience and gain insight into resolving issues.

Each Intercommunity Forum also focuses on a particular subject area, with valuable input from a guest speaker or facilitator._Some of the topics addressed have included the community's relationship with police; the efficiency of the 911 system; and more effective relationships with schools, particularly with regard to expelled students._One forum addressed how outreach workers on the frontlines—the streets—could prevent violence retaliation, intervene in crises, and work one-on-one with gang members or other youths to divert them into school, literacy training, or the workforce.

As a national demonstration program, the Chicago Project has gained support from leading institutions and foundations which share the vision of violence reduction and prevention. The project is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, The Chicago Community Trust, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The LaSalle Adams Fund, The Michael Reese Health Trust, The Field Foundation of Illinois, the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Smart Family Foundation, and the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health.

Contributed by Marian Lawler

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