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Youth Partnership Reclaims Neighborhood from Violence

Editor’s Note:  For years Patti Hogan has been leading citizen safety efforts in East Price Hill (Citizens on Patrol and Good Guys Loitering).  The youth work program described below evolved from this history and is now building the foundations for sustainable public safety–citizen driven action (no police–they don’t create safety, they solve problems) that builds trusting relationships between youth and neighborhood leadership.  Patti has many insights to offer and can be reached at pm_hogan@fuse.net.   

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The Price Hill Safety Community Action Team’s (CAT) Summer Youth Work program came into existence during the summer of 2013. To tell the full story it’s necessary to provide some Safety CAT history.

The Safety CAT began late in 2003 following the tragic shooting of an Elder Student on Glenway. This was a galvanizing event. It became eminently clear we had to be united and deliberate in our efforts to reclaim our neighborhood. Saying we’ve learned a lot is an understatement, and the learning continues.

Much of our education was facilitated by the Cincinnati Police Department. Our education included an introduction to the “broken windows theory” which focuses on the importance of disorder (e.g. broken windows) in generating and sustaining more serious crime. While disorder is not directly linked to serious crime, we learned it leads to increased fear and withdrawal from residents, which then allows more serious crime to move in because of decreased levels of informal social control. We were also introduced to the SARA problem solving model and its practical application and were immersed in community problem oriented policing (CPOP). The SARA model includes the following elements: Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment. It is the use of the SARA model that ultimately led to the conception and implementation of the Summer Youth Work program.

The scanning aspect of the SARA model led us to Price Hill “hot spots” with responses consisting of safety walks, good guys loitering, street parties, etc. During these activities we identified several common symptoms: blight, young people just hanging out, and landlord issues. Throughout we continued to ask the question “what can we do?”.

After more than a few years the idea of a summer youth program was conceived as a way to address two of the three recurring elements – blight and young people with nothing constructive to do. After much conversation and a few road bumps the program began with a grant from NeighWorks America – Community Leadership Institute administered by Price Hill Will. The programs goals are three-fold: 1) to clean and beautify vacant lots and neglected areas of Price Hill, 2) to provide an opportunity for 20-30 youth ranging in age from 10-16 years of age to earn an allowance throughout the summer by engaging them in positive, constructive community cleanup activities with the cleanup efforts focused on blighted vacant lots and overgrown berms, 3) to provide neighborhood youth with positive influences and role models while re-enforcing values of respect, self-esteem, good work habits, hard work, education, setting goals, having dreams, etc.

The program has been tremendously successful and continues to grow. The first year included 13 youth participants. The year recently concluded included 25 participants. Over the life of the program it has contributed over 1800 service hours, removing over 1000 garbage bags of overgrowth and weeds and resulting in the overall improvement in the appearance of Price Hill. The young people are developing a sense of pride in a job well done and are not daunted by hard work, many returning year after year. They are the program’s best promoters as they relay the story to family, friends and people they encounter. They have a growing sense of neighborhood pride. As the program evolves we continue to learn and address the challenges.

A little of what we’ve learned:

  1. Terminology is important; don’t use the word pay or salary due to liabilities and labor laws,
  2. The need for release forms signed by each youth participant’s parent/guardian,
  3. The need to collect parent/guardian contact phone numbers,
  4. The need to identify allergies,
  5. The need to secure permission to use yard maintenance equipment (mowers, weed eaters, loppers, etc),
  6. The need for ideally 1 adult for every 4-5 teens
  7. A 4 hour work day with an hour lunch was too long; shortening it to 3 hours with a 1 hour lunch
  8. The need to provide breakfast; most youth left home without eating
  9. The need to keep records of results and accomplishments

The challenges include:

  1. The continued need to secure funding to pay for the program;
  2. Funding needs include youth allowances, meals, and the purchase and rental of equipment.
  3. The ability to secure the correct equipment for mowing grass and cutting weeds in some case over 6 feet tall.
  4. Finding enough adult volunteers willing to donate 4 hours on a Saturday for 1 to up to 10 weeks throughout the summer to supervise the growing numbers of youth participants.
  5. How to move 20+ young people and the needed equipment to the designated work site.
  6. Finding locations to dispose of the collected debris.
  7. Concerns about liabilities.

Long term goals:

  1. Teaching leadership skills that allow youth aging out of the program to become crew leaders.
  2. The ability to give crew leader an increased allowance for their added responsibilities thus allowing the program to expand.
  3. Continuing to secure funding to sustain the program goals and growth.
  4. Developing new volunteers willing to take over program leadership allowing current leader to take on the role of mentors and teachers.

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