Earlier this week, Dr. Toni Irving, executive director of Get IN Chicago, a public-private partnership to combat juvenile violence, announced its first 11 grant recipients (disclosure: Edelman is the volunteer PR firm). In a ceremony that also featured Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Allstate CEO Thomas Wilson, the $50 million partnership made its first grants to non-profits that in Irving’s words, “administer community-driven programs that research indicates are most effective in preventing youth violence, including mentoring, after-school engagement, cognitive behavioral therapy and parental leadership.” The program has to succeed; over one brutal weekend this spring, there were 36 shootings in 36 hours in Chicago, a new lowlight. Last year Chicago seized more guns than New York City and Los Angeles combined.
I had a dinner at my home on Wednesday for friends from the media and business community so that Irving could explain her rationale for the initial grants and her future plans. Her group was formed a year ago with guidance from Mayor Emanuel and encouragement from First Lady Michelle Obama. Thomas Wilson of Allstate took the lead in raising money from the corporate sector, with many of the large Chicago companies chipping in. It has all of the aspects of a venture capital fund. “We don’t know exactly what works. We are trying lots of things and are evaluating the results,” noted Dr. Irving. The MacArthur Foundation has provided up to $5 million to evaluate outcomes, with the help of the University of Chicago and other academic institutions in the area. “We want to have rigor on where to invest. We can become the Good Housekeeping Seal for second stage funding. We know that funding at scale will have to come from the State of Illinois or City of Chicago.”
She is convinced that community-based organizations are the most effective option as opposed to the larger, city-wide groups. “People in the community need to feel ownership of the problem; you cannot subordinate the local groups to the larger ones.” She has identified capacity building as the key challenge. “Many community-based groups are quite small; they can only take on 50-100 youth at this time. We want to work to help them scale their operations, to collect data, to train their staffs.” She hopes to partner with the University of Chicago to do a training program for leaders of the community groups, offering strategic planning, evaluation skills, audit accounting, personnel management and marketing.
The group is focused on the 13-17 year-old African American males. There are clear risk factors that can be tracked, from delinquency to suspension from school to parental drinking and abuse to parental jail time. One area of interest is work with the school to prison pipeline and arresting students for minor infractions (use of a cell phone), its important divert non-violent young people from juvenile detention (“once you go to jail, you are going from the JV to the Varsity for criminality,” said Irving). New York City Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said “there is great potential for a database that shares information on health, housing, school and crime on each of the children — the City of Cincinnati has the best one.”
There is a major interest in understanding the effectiveness of school-based versus community-based programs. The Becoming a Man program (BAM) is school-based with an after school component, and as one of the 11 grant recipients BAM will be funded to test the impact of a second year of service. The Chicago Public Schools have initiated a parent training program and has also taken on the recruitment of students for both community-based and school-based programs. There are initiatives that received a lot of attention in past decades such as Scared Straight (a federal program that took inner city youth to prisons as a preventative measure but actually increased the likelihood of criminal behavior) that not only did not produce good results, but may have had negative outcomes. Understanding what works will be a huge outcome of this work, said Irving.
The private sector is making a real effort to include at-risk kids. Exelon, the giant utility corporation, has offered to take at risk students as interns where they can get the opportunity for valuable on-site training in meter reading, finance and customer service. Edelman will have an intern this summer as well.
Get IN Chicago has also recognized the need to “be cool,” said Irving. She has put together a youth advisory board comprised of two youths from each of seven communities where organizations were funded, “kids who reflect the population we serve.” At their quarterly board meetings of the youth board, the students will “tell us what they are seeing and tell us what is working.” Working with 1871, the Chicago based entrepreneurial technology incubator, youth will be trained in the basics of a “tech innovator crash course in coding and asked to design solutions for challenges within their communities.” Irving added that, “We must reinvent the image of the African American male. These kids are not born violent. They are already judged to be guilty; there is an assault on them in the media.”
Get IN Chicago is a noble experiment that has to work; as Dr. Irving noted, “First we take on youth violence, then youth joblessness. It may take longer than our five-year charter but we are going to get in and learn.” According to Irving, five percent of the youth on the West Side is responsible for all of the violence. “But we have another 20 percent of the youth who have significant adverse childhood experiences. They react to the trauma in their lives.” The commitment to evidence-based funding is critical; it is impact investing by the private sector at its very best. Our job on the PR front is to tell stories that provide the emotional connection while the data is being collected, the profiles of successful youths and the community program leaders who are the true heroes of the campaign. We are proud to be associated with this effort and are determined to give it a proper public profile.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.
Editor’s Note: This piece written by President and CEO, Edelman, Richard Edelman was first published on May 9th on Richard’s 6 A.M. blog. With his firm’s permission, we republish it here as a contributory, industry supportive piece.