This week both Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville City Council member Reggie Gaffney have called for additional anti-violence funding.
Curry announced earlier this week he’d authorized a transfer of $50,000 in executive branch funds for “community-led stop-the-violence efforts” in the form of grants.
“I am heartbroken by these senseless acts of violence that are impacting children, both as victims and perpetrators,” Curry said in an email Wednesday. “We must create a path that shows our youth a better way - one of hope and opportunity.”
Wednesday Gaffney called a meeting to discuss adding an additional $300,000 to similar efforts. In the overflowing standing-room-only meeting with just 24 hours notice, dozens of faith-based leaders asked for a piece of the funding to help with their anti-crime efforts. Many are already doing the work with minimal funds, like New Life Community Church Pastor Atlas Rankin.
“We’re out here working,” Rankin said. “We’re out here enforcing a change, making a change and we can’t do it alone. Right now in the city it’s like the rich get richer.”
Many of the leaders shared the same sentiment: the big organizations get city money, but smaller organizations are equally if not more entrenched with the youth needing the most help.
Rankin’s church runs a summer camp for 75-150 kids. The church also provides dance class and help with school and he’s trying to start a new mentorship program.
“I try to do everything with a low- to no-cost initiative,” he said. “It’s coming out of our church budgets. It’s coming out of my own pockets,” the pastor said.
Rankin used to get city funding, but wasn’t able to meet new city requirements established a couple of years ago, like having leaders in the program with bachelor’s degrees.
He uses a lot of volunteers and church employees who have been doing this work for more than a decade. He said when he sought out program leaders qualified by city standards, it just didn’t work out.
“As far as caring for these kids there wasn’t a connection,” he said.
But Gaffney acknowledges programs like these have creative approaches and are doing good work. He wants them to have the opportunity to apply for $5,000-$10,000 grants from a $300,000 fund.
“They know the problems,” Gaffney said. “They know the problem kids and they want to be engaged and I believe it’s been my fault that we haven’t yet as the city given them the resources.”
Councilmember Joyce Morgan said the city needs to help the smaller organizations track data, saying many don’t have the staff or resources to show their impactfulness, but that’s a requirement of getting taxpayer dollars. She suggested larger organizations already getting city money be required to help them.
“What if it’s a condition of their funding?” she said.
If CIty Council approves this additional funding, the money will be granted out by the Kids Hope Alliance, which is the organization that manages city youth funding.
KHA CEO Joe Peppers said during the meeting there are also other pots of funding that could be used to hand out these smaller grants such as $50,000 from Jacksonville Sheriff Office fines and forfeitures.
Peppers said Curry’s $50,000 will start being put to use immediately. Gaffney added, if Council approves the $300,000 he’s requesting in grants, Curry wants that put to use immediately in October, the start of the new city year.
Gaffney also acknowledges the total $350,000 isn’t a whole lot of money. “It’s just a drop, a start,” he said.
He said the mayor and City Council President Aaron Bowman are reaching out to the business community for additional funding.
Most city council members agreed the implementation plan of the funding needs to be well thought out.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride.