Uplifting Neighborhoods and Inspiring Young Change-makers

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

I was honored to be invited to the White House on August 5, as a White House Champion of Change. This followed inclusion of Safe & Sound in the Office of National Drug Control Policy 2011 Strategy

ONDCP’s Director Gil Kerlikowske said about Safe & Sound: "This program is a unique, effective, and shining example of how community efforts can reduce drug use and its consequences.  Safe & Sound is an example of a local community taking action and addressing this issue head on.”                                                  

Safe & Sound is a partnership of law enforcement, prosecutors, youth-serving organizations, elected and civic leaders, businesses, city services, and clergy aimed at reducing drug use and crime and rebuilding neighborhoods. The project organizes residents and youth and connects them with community resources to identify and report criminal activity and prevent youth gang affiliation, crime, and substance abuse.   Safe and Sound utilizes 3 interdependent strategies of positive youth development at after-school “Safe Places”, neighborhood organizing through its Community Partners staff, and law enforcement.  It is a unique, collaborative approach to fighting crime, violence, illegal drug and alcohol sales, drug houses, open air drug markets, prostitution, and blighted properties.  

Safe & Sound empowers youth and adults to work together, creating a better, safer community for all.   After-school Safe Places for youth operate during the hours when youth are most apt to commit, or become victims of, crime. Engaging more than 20,000 young people every year, the Safe Places involve them in youth-led crime reduction and neighborhood improvement projects, drug and alcohol prevention activities, and gang resistance and violence prevention efforts.  Young people learn the importance of avoiding drugs, gangs, and guns.   And, they learn the leadership skills to plan and execute projects to change their neighborhoods such as building parks, securing funds for street safety enhancements, and holding neighborhood crime analysis meetings. Programs offered include structured activities to help youth develop personal and social skills through interactive forms of learning.  

Safe & Sound’s Community Partners are community organizers, who conduct year-round door-to-door visits in high-crime neighborhoods.  It is  premised on the belief that citizen involvement is essential to achieving a sustainable, healthy and crime-free community.  The Partners work to mobilize and empower residents to enhance their capacity to address neighborhood issues that lead to violence and the presence of illegal guns, gangs and drug activity. They connect residents with resources and teach them how to access and utilize them; these resources include the Milwaukee Police Department, the District Attorney’s Community Prosecution Unit, the City Department of Neighborhood Services and others.  They work with residents to clean up blighted and criminal nuisance properties, as well as provide invaluable trainings on important neighborhood crime issues. 

The Community Partners program has two overarching goals.  The first goal is to reduce violent crime by building the community's capacity to address the factors that contribute to violence, illegal guns, gangs and drugs.  This goal will be reached by increasing resident reports to law enforcement and community resources; organizing block watches to increase the capacity of residents to solve problems in the community and report local crime; and increasing resident participation in block clubs or block watches, and their involvement in neighborhood organizations and community-building events.

The second goal of the program is to marshall and focus the resources of law enforcement, governmental agencies, faith-based organizations, businesses and community groups to have the biggest impact on solving the neighborhood's problems and build relationships between these groups to sustain the effort over time.  Safe & Sound facilitates  restorative justice community conferences and trainings involving  youth and adult community stakeholders; organizes and leads hundreds of  community meetings and events such as neighborhood walks with police, block beautification events, and anti-crime presentations and community organizer training to strengthen local leaders; and reducing  the number of blighted properties by meeting and exceeding 70% voluntary property owner compliance on identified housing code violations and nuisance properties without the intervention of expensive city services.

Barbara Notestein is the Executive Director of Safe & Sound, a crime reduction initiative focusing its collaborative strategy of community mobilization, positive youth development and law enforcement on 21 neighborhoods in Milwaukee with the highest rates of crime. 

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