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For Debbie Watts, SHARE Foundation vice president of Community Impact, the first year of the Union County Violence Intervention Plan of the SHARE Foundation has been a success.

The VIP started a year ago with the release of $280,000 in grants to 10 local nonprofits that presented a plan that fell into one of the six categories identified as part of the program. This year, $312,791 in grants are being given out. The six categories of the Violence Intervention Plan are:

Mentoring and Role Models

Re-Entry

Neighborhood Watches/Clean Neighborhoods

Mental Health, Substance & Drug Abuse

Jobs & Targeted Education

Parenting & Life Skills

Watts said the program didn’t have a nonprofit for every category last year. For the 2019 grants, the only category that the SHARE Foundation does not have a grantee for is the Neighborhood Watches/Clean Neighborhoods.

“However, we do have some potential collaborations in place with potentially Keep El Dorado Beautiful and potentially some others that are working in that realm,” Watts said.

The goal of the VIP program has been to reduce crime and violence. She said that while many of the programs are focused on young children, the goal is for those children to be able to get out of a bad situation and make a better path for themselves. However, Watts also said that there are adults in the community looking for a hand up and she wants to make sure there are programs in place to help them.

“We’re not saying that Union County is a violent community or that there are things going on there,” Watts said. “It’s a proactive approach. We didn’t want to be another town somewhere down the line where a major event happened and nobody knew how to deal with it.” Good pull quote option

Last year, grants were awarded to Literacy Council of Union County, South Arkansas Children’s Coalition, Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center, South Arkansas Arts Center, Turning Point, El Dorado Police Department, Boys & Girls Club, Eagle Foundation, Wyatt Baptist Church and The Salvation Army.

Watts said there’s been more of an emphasis on the Mentoring and Role Models category with half of the grant recipients including a mentorship aspect within their programs. While all the mentoring groups in 2018 were focused on youth, Watts said there’s two groups that are looking for adult mentors to work with people who are going into re-entry shelters.

Watts said the 10 initial grantees are working on compiling reports to give to the SHARE Foundation that talk about what went well with the program over the past year and what areas they’re needing to continue to work on. Those reports are supposed to be to Watts by the end of the month so that she has time to review them and make a full report.

“It’s going to be interesting for us,” Watts said. “We know just from conversation that there has been great impact, especially in the mentoring focus area because we had several that already had some good collaborations in place like Church Adopt-a-School with Wyatt, the Arts Center had some things in place that they formalized more into a mentoring program. Then of course we have the Eagle Foundation that’s mentoring groups at the Boys and Girls Club. Mentoring really had a good foothold this year, which was really exciting to us.”

Watts said that just at the halfway point with the program, they were seeing better grades, increasing attendance and fewer disciplinary issues with the students involved in the program. She said they were expecting those results based on other research of other programs, but were happy to see it translating to Union County students.

Some of the grantees were new so they were getting started on programs, Watts said, but she’s expecting good results from all of the grantees. These results will serve as a baseline for the upcoming year and will help the organizations set goals for the 2019 and 2020 years with a focus on growing and making a bigger impact.

“Not to be complacent in the good that we’ve done, but to continue to grow those efforts,” Watts said.

Watts said that one of the big things the SHARE Foundation would like to push for is getting information from other organizations throughout the community that aren’t a grantee, but have a focus on one of the main areas of the VIP Program. The goal would be to include the data from those organizations in the report so that the Foundation can include their impact.

Looking back, Watts said she didn’t notice anything about the program that needed to be done differently moving forward on a large scale, but that the individual organizations probably had some things that they needed to adjust.

“One of our big things is if you don’t meet a goal, or if you don’t meet something, that doesn’t mean that you failed,” Watts said. “They all realize that that is an opportunity to redirect or change or make something better so I think that as they worked through their processes, especially the new programming, they probably did find some areas that needed to be rerouted or redirected. They just do that internally.”

That being said, there will still be changes to how the program works internally for the 2019 year. Watts said that during 2018, all of the grantees met on a monthly basis to discuss issues or needs as a way to support collaboration between them.

Going into 2019, Watts said that each of the six focus areas will have a group that meets by itself. She said that structuring it this way, the Foundation is hoping to bring in another 60-70 people to be in the conversation on these topics. They aren’t necessarily grantees, but people within the community who are related or focused on that individual area.

“Looking at the right people from the different sectors of the communities that need to be at those tables to address the issues that are out there,” Watts said.

Watts said the full group of grantees will meet together a couple times a year to bring each other up to speed on what they’re working on.

“While we’ve seen impacts in the first six months and we know to see impacts in the next year, we know that this is a long term goal,” Watts said. “We want to see impacts 10, 15, 20 years from now that are a result of this and all the people who helped develop it feel very confident that with evidence based programs in place that it really is going to happen.”

VIP Updates

Several of the 2018 grant recipients gave updates on how their respective grants benefited their organizations.

Jennifer Davis, executive director of the Hannah Pregnancy Resource Center, said the first year of the VIP grant cycle has been a success for not only the Hannah Center, but those they have been able to reach thanks to the grant as well.

“Basically, we recognized the need for multiple area agencies, not just us, we needed to partner with them to meet the objectives. And the objective for us was to improve the lives in Union County outside of the pregnancy center,” Davis said.

Along with their baby boutique and expansion of parenting and life-skills classes at their headquarters, the Hannah Center has also begun reaching out to those incarcerated in Union County through a program called A New Hope.

Davis said that of 34 women at the Union County Jail that they worked with, 94 percent were in for substance abuse. She said 80 percent were also past or present victims of sexual or physical abuse.

“We started learning that life skills kind of extends to so many different people, not just pregnancy,” Davis said. “We have all this great information; we want to see if we can reach other people too, not just pregnant clients.”

She said their class modules mainly focus on life skills for the incarcerated women they work with. Topics include healthy boundaries and relationships, healing from abuse and healthy living and self-care.

The Hannah Center was also able to work with the Union County Sheriff’s Office to quantify some of the impacts incarceration has on the area. She said out of 115 completed surveys, 145 children were indicated as being impacted by their parents’ incarceration.

In 2019, Davis said the Hannah Center hopes to continue to grow the A New Hope program, hopefully adding male mentors who can work with some of the men who are incarcerated in Union County.

Additionally, the Hannah Center will collaborate with Wings to Recovery, a re-entry ministry that will offer help to those leaving incarceration, when the facility opens later this year. Davis said they will teach weekly classes from an evidence-based curriculum called Bridges out of Poverty.

“There’s going to be a lot of stuff to report, I think, at the end of this year that’s going to be neat for the community,” Davis said.

The Hannah Center received a $16,125 VIP grant in 2018 as part of the parenting and life skills part of the plan. They were selected for a 2019 grant renewal; this year, they received $37,650 and have been classified in the re-entry part of the plan.

Davis said the ultimate goal for the Hannah Center in participating in the Violence Intervention Plan is to reduce recidivism in Union County.

Participation in Wyatt Baptist Church’s Adopt-a-School mentoring program has about doubled since they received a VIP grant in 2018 to expand the program.

“We now have 50 mentors and we are in Strong Elementary, Parkers Chapel Elementary and then Retta Brown and Yocum, Washington and Barton in the El Dorado School District,” said Vicki Harmon, mentoring coordinator.

Harmon said the program was now entering its fifth year. When they received their first grant last year, she said they had about 25 mentors, all from Wyatt Baptist. The mentors all started with students at Yocum Elementary and have followed them as they progress in school; however, at that time, they did not have enough mentors to go to other elementary schools.

Since then, Harmon said the program has gained 25 new mentors from five churches that have gotten involved. She said students who have been mentored have seen improvements in grades, attendance and behavior.

“Our grades showed an improvement this year; our discipline decreased in probably half of the students, so … we’ve seen great improvement for everything in Union County that we’ve done so far.”

Harmon highlighted how important it has been to the mentoring program to be able to work with other organizations that are also participating in the Violence Intervention Plan. Wyatt Baptist fell into the community involvement part of the plan and they have taken that mission to heart.

“We’re truly blessed. We just feel like God just really opened up the doors in a lot of places and people were ready in the churches we went to and the schools were ready for them,” Harmon said. “It’s all been good.”

Harmon said they have worked particularly closely with the South Arkansas Arts Center and the Boys & Girls Club of El Dorado, which were also 2018 VIP grant recipients.

“A lot of our mentees are going to the (Boys & Girls) Club and some are going to the Arts Center and taking classes there … it’s been a huge blessing for them because some of them wouldn’t get to participate in dance and drama and art, so we’ve worked real well together. We have meetings monthly to see what else we can do and how we’re all going,” Harmon said. “It’s just been a really good coalition of us all working together, so you don’t feel like you’re competing against anyone for grant money, but it’s a team effort.”

Wyatt Baptist’s VIP grant was renewed for 2019 so that they may continue to try to grow the Adopt-a-School program. Harmon said she hopes to gain at least five new churches again this year and at least 25 more mentors.

“You see what it can be like where churches start working together,” she said.

Another benefit of the expansion of the program has been that teachers and administration at the schools mentors visit always know they have extra support if they need it, Harmon said.

Wyatt Baptist Church received a $52,400 VIP grant in 2018 as part of the community involvement part of the plan. They were selected for a 2019 grant renewal; this year they received $58,250 and they are in the mentoring part of the Violence Intervention Plan.

Laura Allen, executive director at the South Arkansas Arts Center, said receiving a VIP grant last year brought about positive changes for SAAC.

“It’s really been wonderful. It has increased the enrollment in our after-school classes program … so we have a lot more kids in the building. We have a lot of new faces, kids and parents, that we haven’t had before and I think they bring a lot to our place,” Allen said. “We are really grateful to have these new personalities in the mix.”

Allen said 40 children each semester received scholarships and were able to enroll in SAAC’s classes when they otherwise may not have been able to. She said they signed up for almost every class SAAC offers.

She said working with other VIP grantees has helped SAAC to track some of the outcomes the community has seen since the Violence Intervention Plan was first announced and that they plan to continue that effort this year.

“It really is, I think, a very holistic way to deal with the whole VIP strategy. Vicki [Harmon] had some students who were interested and weren’t exactly sure how to sign up, so she was able to send them to me and I was able to get them in classes and they have really been some of the most successful students that we have because they have more than one person in the VIP coalition sort of looking after them and making sure that they are getting the very best that we can offer them,” Allen said.

Allen said they will work with other VIP grantees again this year in order to retain as many of the new students they gained last year as possible. She said part of SAAC’s objective is to help children grow in what she called “positive youth development principles,” which include skills like critical thinking, creativity and teamwork.

Students at SAAC improved in every category of the positive youth development principles, as well as other traditional outcome measurements like grades, school attendance and behavior.

“We tracked just the first semester and the students who were in classes improved across the board in every category,” Allen said.

Allen said SAAC is very grateful the SHARE Foundation saw the value of arts education and chose to help foster it.

“It creates a safe environment for kids to learn a new skill or get better at something and any time that a child can master something and get better at it and work in a team, it really benefits them in the long run with empathy, critical thinking, problem solving,” Allen said.

SAAC received a $20,000 VIP grant as part of the mentoring a role models part of the plan. They were selected for a 2019 grant renewal; this year, they received another $20,000 and will stay in the mentoring part of the Violence Intervention Plan.

The South Arkansas Children’s Coalition (SACC) was also a 2018 VIP grant recipient. With the grant, they were able to hire a second mental health professional at the Children’s Advocacy Center of South Arkansas, which officials say has helped.

“We were able to secure a second therapist, so therefore we could provide more victims with specialized therapy,” said Robin Krneta, SACC director. “We’ve been able to see more children that come through the Center.”

SACC is a nonprofit that oversees the 13th Judicial District Court Appointed Special Advocates and Children’s Advocacy Center of South Arkansas. Typically, SACC’s case load is constantly full; thanks to having a second therapist on staff, the organization no longer has a waiting list, Krneta said.

Their new therapist is certified in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), which is a specialized, evidence-based type of therapy geared specifically to children who have been abused.

“[TF-CBT] teaches them coping skills. It has different phases through the therapy and helps them kind of … process what has happened to them, to be able to overcome it,” Krneta said.

SACC received a second VIP grant this year, which Krneta said will be used to continue paying their new therapist as well as to add new services to SACC. Krneta said this year, they will introduce support groups for the caregivers of abuse victims.

Krneta said SACC hopes to provide support services to at least 20 families this year with the support groups. Non-offending caregivers can also be a part of their children’s care and may receive parenting tips or other help from SACC’s licensed therapists.

“It will also allow us, hopefully, too, to go towards recruitment and training more volunteers to advocate for children in foster care,” Krneta said. “We want to be able to provide more advocacy through the court for the children that come into foster care.”

SACC received a $13,500 VIP grant as part of the community involvement and family support part of the plan. They were selected for a 2019 grant renewal; this year, they received $16,000 and are part of the parenting and life skills part of the Violence Intervention Plan.

Other organizations who received a VIP grant this year:

Boys and Girls Club of El Dorado received $35,700 to operate their newly renovated Teen Center.

Cross Life Church received $22,300 for SHIFT Recovery Ministries.

The Eagle Foundation received $42,600 to train and place mentors with at-risk students.

The El Dorado Police Department received $18,241 for CATS Academy, which teaches incoming middle schoolers to be committed, ambitious and trustworthy students.

The Salvation Army received $43,050 for their Pathway of Hope program.

Turning Point received $19,000 to provide case management to domestic violence victims and their children and provide education to local students.

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or mshine@eldoradonews.com. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or cbutler@eldoradonews.com.

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