Kids Hope Alliance Aims To Curb Youth Violence In Jacksonville With $364K Mini Grant Program

Oct 24, 2018

The City of Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance is hoping to stem the tide of youth violence in Duval County with its new $364,000 Stop the Violence Neighborhood Intervention and Prevention Mini Grants Program.

“The mini grant program was borne out from the Mayor’s response to the shooting at Raines High School,” said Joe Peppers, CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance (KHA), in an interview with WJCT. “The intent for the City Council was really to supply an injection of support to small organizations in the community that are community-based and really working with kids at a grassroots level.”

Peppers said through this new mini grant program, KHA will be giving out at least 36 grants at $10,000 a piece. That’s on top of $50,000 in executive branch funds authorized by Mayor Lenny Curry in August, which has already been distributed in the form of five $10,000 mini grants.

“We’re hoping to engage our teenagers at a higher degree,” Peppers said. “We’re hoping to do that with community-based organizations that are closer to our students. The outcome should be, that with an engaged population of teenagers, that we see a reduction in violence and an increase in conscientiousness.”

According to Peppers, this effort is unprecedented in Duval County and the city is investing more than it ever has in crime prevention and intervention initiatives. On top of the more than $400,000 earmarked for the Stop the Violence mini grant program, KHA has already budgeted nearly $800,000 for other crime prevention initiatives and they recently acquired a significant grant for juvenile justice efforts. Peppers said that brings Jacksonville’s total investment in youth crime prevention efforts up to nearly $2 million this year.

“This is a significant increase,” he said. “And I believe that the mayor is committed to investing more.”

Recipients will get 25 percent of their $10,000 grant up front. They will then be required to submit receipts and invoices to get the rest of the award money in 25 percent increments. Peppers said if there are any red flags during that process, or if the organization doesn’t fulfill their contract, funding will be cut off and they’ll be expected to reimburse KHA.

According to Peppers, the only real difference between these mini grants and all of KHA’s other contracts is the dollar amount.

“The only difference is that it’s a smaller amount,” he said. “We’ve got a hundred and something thousand dollar contracts all over the place. The Boys and Girls Club gets $6 million. CIS gets almost $5 million. We always are managing those contracts and ensuring that there’s accountability.”

“We’re going to look at their contract, whether they do dancing, or art, or mentoring, or educational tutoring, or character classes,” Peppers went on to say of Stop the Violence mini grant recipients. “We’ll look at that and then we’re going to look at the number of children that they said they were going to serve, and we’ll ensure that that is there. And then we’ll communicate that. We’ll communicate that as a group quarterly, at a minimum, to both our board and to the city council and the administration.”

The deadline to apply for one of the mini grants was Oct. 18. Recommendations will be made to the KHA board at the organization’s October 30 meeting.

“We’re looking for programs that can do the job, that have a vision, and we’re looking for organizations that are willing to collaborate,” Peppers said.

Organizations like Don’t Miss a Beat (DMAB), said Peppers, is one of the organizations benefiting from the $10,000 grants provided by Mayor Curry. The nonprofit will be using that money to fund its new “Safety Net” program, which kicks off on Friday, Oct. 26.

Children waiting in line for dinner at Don't Miss a Beat's after school program.
Credit Brendan Rivers / WJCT News

“The Safety Net program is a program that we originally kicked off about three years ago, and it was actually being funded by CSX,” said Gwendolyn Owens, Director of Development for DMAB. “During that time we were talking about school safety and railroad safety and all of that. We expanded that for this grant and we are really looking at the opportunity to teach the children in our after-school program how to see something, say something, and who their safety nets are.”

The KHA grant money will be spent on safety net kits and packets put together by DMAB. They’ll include materials for kids and their parents like bracelets and curriculum packets. According to Felicia Bass, Director of Operations for DMAB, the grant funding, which runs from October 2018 through February 2019, won’t be spent on anything else.

Safety Net activities will be held on Fridays, about twice a month. DMAB says they plan to regularly bring in guest speakers like doctors or people from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Representatives from Duval County Schools and the school board will be at the kickoff event on Friday, and according to Owens, they’ve already said they want to get students involved in the program.

“The kids in this community and in urban areas are exposed to so much on a daily basis, and most of them are latchkey kids,” said Esther Poitier, Director of Programs for DMAB. “Their parents are working and they have to let themselves in and they may not have after school programming or something that is available to them that would be free. That’s why this program is so important because it puts funding dollars where we can reach those kids that would otherwise be home or be more susceptible to getting into trouble. That’s why this was just an awesome idea to put funding there for kids in those inner city and urban areas.”

Poitier said that about 75 children who already participate in DMAB programming will be involved in the new Safety Net program. Children from The Sulzbacher Center will take part and they hope to bring in more children over time.

“We’re always open to kids in the area as well as other kids that may be invited by kids that are currently in the program or by word of mouth,” said Owens. “So we never turn kids away. Even if we far exceed what we are financially alloted, we never turn kids away.”

According to Owens, the application process for the Stop the Violence mini grant program was incredibly easy. “We’ve been getting dollars from the former Children’s Commission, now the Kids Hope Alliance, for about 10 years and that grant process has its challenges,” she said. “But they really tried to make that process more user friendly.”

Poitier said that’s probably because KHA wants to get as many organizations to participate as possible.

“I think they really, really made a special effort to make this grant available to grassroots organizations,” she said. “A lot of times smaller faith based organizations are ruled out because they don’t have the manpower to spend in writing some of the more difficult grants. But they went through a lot of painstaking effort to make sure that everybody got a fair chance to get these dollars, and I think that alone was phenomenal.”

“It’s going to take a confluence of things, of partnerships and programming to reduce violence,” Peppers said. “JSO can’t do it alone. The city can’t do it alone. The state attorney’s office can’t do it alone. The community can’t do it alone, nor can the nonprofit sector. So all five of those spheres of influence are going to be working together in concert to ensure that we can reduce violence.”

Peppers said he thinks the results of the mini grant program will be evident in the near future.

“I think that by the turn of the year you’re really going to start to see a significant impact and then we’re going to try to tell that story as much as we can,” he said. “We want to make sure this wins and there’s excellence in it so then we can demonstrate that and we can come back to the mayor and say, ‘hey, let’s do this again but at a larger scale.’

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.