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Expanding Your Program's Reach by Engaging Policymakers and Partnering with Community Resources

The Violence Intervention and Prevention Project (VIP), a program of L.U.K. Crisis Center, Inc.
Worcester, Massachusetts

Like many grantees, April Thomas, project director of the LUK, Inc., Violence Intervention and Prevention Project (VIP), is facing the harsh realities of state budget cuts. Her strategy is twofold - to educate and engage policymakers and to create a network of community collaborators.

Last November, Thomas testified at a Massachusetts Health and Human Services hearing on behalf of LUK, Inc./VIP. She took advantage of the opportunity to inform policymakers about the nature of VIP's work and what could be done to engage youth in care. Rather than bemoan state cuts, she outlined many positive means of changing the current system to reduce stigma, harassment, and violence toward youth in out-of-home settings. After outlining the current statistics and demographics related to youth in care, she delineated VIP's suggested means of overcoming the challenges faced by youth in care. Among her suggestions were the following:

  • LUK/VIP would establish a coalition of formal partnerships with state and local agencies and recommend expansion of this community collaborative process.
  • Regulations, contract expectations, and standards should express a positive, asset-based youth development approach rather than a stigmatizing, deficit-based one.
  • Funding applicants should be encouraged to partner with youth and the applications should reflect youth needs as voiced by the youth themselves.

The upshot? LUK/VIP believe that the positive spin placed on the challenges and opportunities presented at the hearing may lead Massachusetts to find ways to continue violence prevention programs.

A second approach LUK/VIP used to extend their reach was to invite collaborating agencies to an inaugural summit last December to promote positive youth development programs. Invitees included representatives from various state agencies, care providers, youth programs, youth employers, community coalitions, youth, and parents. The objective was to forge an ongoing coalition that would dedicate itself to positive youth development in Central Massachusetts. Discussion areas included the following:

  • Ways to enhance and leverage collaboration, given limited funds
  • The need for evaluation data to show effectiveness of various programs and of the overall effort
  • Participation of missing entities - schools, faith-based organizations, others
  • Information on what's happening in the region

Attendance and interest were quite high for this first meeting as was commitment to continue building the collaboration. LUK/VIP plan to convene a follow-up meeting in the next few months to keep the momentum going.