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Why the Philanthropic Sector Cares

Why the Philanthropic Sector Cares About Crime and Violence

For foundations considering why they might support crime and violence prevention efforts, and agencies that petition foundations for support, the following framework may be useful. It should be noted, however, that few foundations directly fund crime and violence prevention efforts. Their portfolios may include youth development, education, community development, economic development, health care, or family support, but rarely crime and violence prevention. In a very real sense, however, there is evidence that funding in these areas helps to reduce violence, especially within the context of a larger strategy. Every city in the California Cities Gang Prevention Network and the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention has received support from a variety of private foundations. Why?

The Importance of Comprehensive Planning

Some city leaders indicated that their completed, comprehensive plan gave them a strong hand. It reinforced their case for two reasons. First, foundations viewed their request in the context of an articulated plan that had the backing of city leaders. Therefore, foundations viewed the request not in isolation, but rather as part of a robust, multi-sector, citywide plan. Tonya Allen, Vice President of the Skillman Foundation said it best: “Everything we did seemed disconnected … Our traditional way of doing business was not working … The cohering glue became the Forum with its emphasis on pulling all together, of blending prevention, intervention, and enforcement.” Second, foundations that did not have violence prevention in their charters could participate in ways consonant with their portfolios. Thus a foundation committed to early childhood education could help with the plan's prevention segment; those pledged to youth development could fund intervention aspects of the plan such as mentoring or summer work.

Moral/Social Justice

All were driven by the horror of violence, the staggering number of deaths, of shootings, of lives and families torn apart, and of jails bulging with young offenders. Project Officer Julio Marciel at the California Wellness Foundation said, “The reason we got into it 20 years ago was because too many kids were dying. We could not engage ourselves in 'normal' health work given the number of deaths of young people—especially by guns.” Cathy Weiss, Director of the Stoneleigh Foundation, framed Stoneleigh's commitment in terms of rights violated: “We couldn't ignore that our number one civil right, safety, is an elusive right for too many of our youth … we cannot ignore the injustice of living in a persistently violent neighborhood.” Sylvia Zaldivar-Sykes of the Lake County Community Foundation pointed out the injustice brought about simply by geography, that “Zip codes matter. New Trier High, one of the best schools in the nation, is 5 miles away from a high school where I can show you a pyramid of memorials of slain kids taller than you.” She argues passionately that the quality of services a person receives and the sense of safety and security must be guaranteed by right, not by home address.

Violence as a Public Health Issue

“The African American community has trauma, has post-traumatic stress syndrome, but guess what: they can't get out of Vietnam. It doesn't end,” said Shawn Dove of the Open Society Foundation. Many foundations cited public health concerns as their reason for involvement, framing their responses in terms of responding to an epidemic: constant exposure to crime causing significant trauma-related consequences. Doctors treating children and adults living in high-crime areas who exhibit post-traumatic stress syndromes; kids who become obese because they are unable to play in the street or park; and, as public health would identify the “source” of the epidemic, in this case violence, it would find violence concentrated in certain neighborhoods. “It touches everything we do: our hospitals, the communities in which they're located, employees,” asserted Jodi Ravel, project officer at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. By taking a public health approach, Ravel believes “that with evidence-based interventions, violence can be prevented.” The Report of the Attorney General's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence suggests: “Exposure to violence is a national crisis that affects approximately two out of every three of our children.”

Safety as a Necessary Pre-Investment

In many cases, the philanthropic community saw its investments in other areas either eroded or jeopardized because of the pervasive effects of violent crime. “We fund health, education, family economic success, but no matter our route in, we kept running into the youth violence issue,” said Sharnita Johnson, Kellogg Foundation Project Officer. Johnson's comments were echoed by many, among them Paul Grogan, President of the Boston Foundation: “We've been a long-time funder, beginning with the 10-Point Coalition in the mid-'90s … the core reason had to do with pervasive fear in the community, fear that meant we couldn't fully realize our investments in other areas.”/p>

Violence as a Community Killer

The California Endowment “is a private, statewide health foundation with a mission to build a stronger state by expanding access to affordable quality health care to underserved communities and improving the overall health of all Californians” (www.calendow.org). The Endowment has recently focused most of its efforts on 14 communities in California. Their first task under the umbrella of health was to determine the top health concern in each community. Endowment Project Officer Barbara Raymond said the results were stunning: “In every community, the top concern was violence and its prevention. It was more salient than a doctor's office, than parks, air, food—an issue we weren't even thinking about.” Raymond went on to assert that violence was weakening citizenship, eroding communities: “They told us, ‘Yes, we need a grocery store here, but if we don't feel safe shopping, it doesn't make any difference.’ This was a show stopper for us … Violence was crippling communities.”

Economic

“Crime affects us all. And Chicago is Allstate's home town, and what affects the city, affects us,” said Victoria Dinges, Allstate's Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility. She maintains that for Chicago to become a global city and economic powerhouse such as Los Angeles and New York, it had to “deal with Chicago's violence problem.”

Business leaders in Oakland's Fruitvale District warn the local Chamber of Commerce and the City Council that crime and violence are causing the small business community to leave, thus depriving the city of urgently needed tax dollars for essential services such as police and schools, in addition to depriving citizens of convenient places to shop. The same has occurred in Detroit.

Georgina Mendoza, Salinas, Calif.'s, Director of Community Safety, pressed the community viability/economic argument: “We've got to talk about making the city attractive for businesses and employees. Do businesses want to relocate here? Do kids want to come back here after college?” she asked.