Penn State Berks has a long history of serving youth in its community. Recently the college was awarded a $1.62 million grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to establish a youth violence intervention and prevention program, a new initiative that will employ evidence-based strategies to serve youth ages 14 to 21 in Berks County.
In addition to establishing the program, objectives of the grant include working with community partners to identify youth who are at risk of committing violence, as well as violence interrupters they call “peacemakers.” The multi-year grant will run through 2025.
Ebonie Cunningham Stringer, associate professor of criminal justice, is the principal investigator on the grant along with co-investigator Laurie Grobman, distinguished professor of English and women’s studies.
‘Not One More: A Peace and Justice Project’ was created to facilitate work on the grant and beyond. Stringer and Grobman are working in collaboration with Edna Garcia-DiPini, executive director of RIZE Above Bars, a nonprofit youth organization in Berks County. Stringer serves as the executive director of Not One More; Garcia-DiPini is the director of programs and Grobman is the director of special projects and story project facilitator.
Not One More facilitates the newly formed Berks Youth Anti-Violence Coalition, a collaborative working group comprised of youth-serving community organizations, faith communities, schools, community leaders and government-sponsored agencies that work to eradicate violence in Berks County.
The coalition’s mission is to reduce the duplication of services, address gaps in services to youth, promote information sharing, and connect youth to community resources from which they may benefit, all in an effort to help create a community in which all youth can live, flourish and develop to their full potential without fear of violence.
The coalition is currently planning a Safe Corridor Halloween Event for the area around the 11th and Pike playground in Reading. The event will provide a safe environment for youth to go trick-or-treating and to enjoy other holiday fun without the fear of violence in the community.
Stinger explains that youth are increasingly responsible for violence in Reading. Earlier this month, a fatal shooting in the vicinity of the playground and an 18-year-old man killed. A 16-year-old has been charged for his death. This is just one example of the violence that plagues the city.
Specific project goals for the grant include reducing violent crime and gun violence among youth ages 14-21; developing and monitoring violence prevention plans for 40 youth at-risk of violence; changing community norms about violence through education, training, the arts, and nonviolent messaging; empowering residents and youth who have committed or been impacted by violence to share responsibility for reducing violence; and facilitating the Berks Youth Antiviolence Coalition.
According to Stringer, “One of our primary goals is to learn whether the evidence-based cure violence model can work to reduce youth violence in Reading.” She is motivated by the desire to continue to refine evidence-based models that other cities can use to eradicate violence. The cure violence model takes a public health approach to eradicating violence by detecting and deescalating conflict before violence erupts, targeting and providing treatment services to youth who are at the highest risk of violence as victims or perpetrators, and changing community norms that promote violence.
Stringer is also interested in getting religious and civic organizations, as well as businesses invested in the fight against community violence. She stated, “These are often underutilized resources, and it’s going to take the entire village to protect children from gun violence.”
Grobman has taken on the primary role of collecting and sharing the community’s stories about violence. She explained that people need to hear stories about how violence impacts members of the community in both direct and indirect ways. In addition to helping individuals better understand their experiences and the power of their voices through storytelling, she stated, “More people will understand why they need to become involved in violence intervention and prevention.”
For more information about the violence intervention and prevention program or the Berks Youth Anti-Violence Coalition, contact Stringer at 610-396-6018 or via email at ECS296@psu.edu.