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City groups seek coordinated anti-violence effort

Springfield organizers hope April 18 meeting will be the beginning.

“Stop hate together” is the theme of the “Not in Our Town” event scheduled for 5 to 7:30 p.m. April 18 at the Rocking Horse Community Health Center.

And while sending out a “Save the Date” message to other organizations in the community, organizers hope to make April 18 an important day for rallying community forces to develop a long-term, coordinated approach to reducing violence in Springfield.

“It’s not just one entity’s responsibility,” said Winkie Mitchell of the Rocking Horse Center at a meeting that included representatives from Project Jericho, Springfield Promise Neighborhood, Forging Responsible Youth and the POPS Club, which encourages men to take seriously their roles as fathers. “It’s all of ours.”

Rocking Horse Director Dr. James Duffee said that a study done by the Centers for Disease Control has established that “domestic violence, child abuse, intimate partner violence, youth violence and community violence are all the same problem.”

In addressing the problem, the rule of thumb is “the sooner the better,” he said, so intervening in child abuse helps to cut down subsequent forms of violence.

He added that in addressing the problem, the Centers for Disease Control has established that two factors are important: Community awareness of the links between overall violence and the importance community groups linking and working together to lessen the violence.

Duffee said the Rocking Horse Center’s interest in addressing violence grows out of what the CDC study has found: that the same poverty and isolation that creates an increased incidence for child abuse and other community violence “causes people to have shorter lives and lower health status.”

“This isn’t a problem that’s just limited to the four walls of our health care facility.”

George Young of the POPS program said that encouraging poor fathers to re-assume the role of being the protectors, order keepers, providers and stabilizers of their families has to be a long-term effort “because there is no short-term fix.”

Evidence of that is found in the locations where he teaches most of his classes: The Clark County Jail and McKinley Hall drug treatment center.

His troubled clients “just don’t have dads in their lives,” he said. “They don’t have anybody to teach them.”

Brian Keith, who works with Young, said that a lack of economic opportunity plays a major role in the cycle.

“We can give people the information, but you still have to go home to a job you don’t have” and the stress that causes in marriages or other relationships, he said.

Without a chance for a job, Keith said, illegal activities become a ready alternative for a father to provide some support for the family and feel the support of an illicit community.

Liz Hale of Forging Responsible Youth said that in helping children growing up at risk, “the bottom line is relationships.”

She said she and her colleagues work to identify children’s strengths, making sure the children know them, and “providing an anchor” for the children she said are the “symptom bearers” for families that need support.

“I believe children know something is wrong and there’s a right way somewhere,” said the Rocking Horse’s Mitchell. She said it’s also possible for them to “claim that new family” of supportive outsiders “without giving up their own.”

Beth Dixon said Project Jericho has been successful in using art to become a place where children can realize their situation “and express it.”

By doing so, she said, “I think you’re turning the key and opening the door” for them to understand where they are and find a new path.

Eric Smith of the Springfield Promise Neighborhood said efforts in the Lincoln School Neighborhood are reaching even younger children with its preschool programs.

He added that, like children who are aware something is wrong in their lives, there are elements of the neighborhood who “realize there’s a larger community” where people are more connected with one another and children have a more supportive environment.

The program’s goal is to connect with those elements as “our primary partner in creating a stronger society” to support the children.

Mitchell said that in trying to create a coordinated response, it’s “our families, our neighborhoods, our initiatives and our children … be louder than the violence.”

She added that with government funding for a wide array of programs likely to decline, local organizing will be all the more important.

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