By Ashley Luthern
Of the 23 homicides recorded in the city this year, 14 of the victims were 25 years old or younger.
Some suspects in those crimes are under 25, too.
Now, city officials are looking to bring organizations together in one concerted effort to prevent youth violence.
The mayor, police chief and a city council member are in Cleveland today to learn more about two social programs — one of which was used in the city before — that could help alleviate that violence.
Mayor Chuck Sammarone, Police Chief Rod Foley and Councilman Nate Pinkard are scheduled to attend a recognition luncheon for the Peacemakers Alliance and Amer-I-Can.
The Peacemakers Alliance is a collaborative effort of Cleveland-based organizations that address violent crime and gang activity.
Its president is Reggie Rucker, a former Cleveland Browns player.
Rucker also is involved with Amer-I-Can, an organization founded by football Hall of Famer Jim Brown in 1988 that targets at-risk youths — those who have failing grades, high truancy or disciplinary problems — and provides them life skills.
Sammarone said the program is “something that we can possibly use. We’re just going to get information and evaluate it.”
Rucker said Cleveland’s mayor, police chief and other officials will be at the luncheon and can answer questions from Youngstown officials.
The model of the alliance is to provide Cleveland residents with “caring competent people who can provide conflict resolution” and make a safe environment for city children, lowering fear and intimidation.
“I think the politicians and lawmakers would agree that we cannot arrest and lock our way out of this. There has to be prevention and intervention,” Rucker said.
The Peacemakers Alliance is one of many social-service organizations that take part in STANCE, a federal initiative based in Cleveland named Stand Together Against Neighborhood Crime Everyday.
STANCE aims to curb gang violence by bring many law enforcement and social-service groups together, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Cleveland.
“We say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing so everyone’s on the same page,’ and we all work together and try not to replicate or duplicate [our efforts],” he continued.
STANCE works in conjunction with other federal programs such as V-GRIP, Tobin said.
“We realize we can arrest a lot of people, and we’ll continue to do that, but if you just address that but don’t address prevention and what happens when they get out of prison, you’re just playing whack-a-mole,” he said.
Foley said he wants to bring STANCE to Youngstown and incorporate social programs, including the Peacemakers Alliance and Amer-I-Can, into it.
“We can’t get inside people’s head to say, ‘Stop shooting at each other,’” Foley said. “It takes the society as a whole and the community as a whole to build infrastructure and morals.”
What’s needed, he added, is “an overall umbrella.”
The Amer-I-Can part of this effort targets at-risk students, identified by school staff and placed in a life-skills class for academic credit, Rucker said.
Superintendent Connie Hathorn said he is aware of Amer-I-Can possibly coming to Youngstown and is familiar with the organization from his prior job in Akron.
“It was a great program for young men and the city. It teaches them how to really get along with others and social skills that they need,” Hathorn said.
He said the school district is willing to provide assistance to Amer-I-Can because “academics are first.”
“If you don’t have safe schools, you can’t concentrate, and it will affect your academics,” Hathorn said.
Amer-I-Can was in The Rayen School and Wilson High School from the mid-1990s to about 2000. Rucker said the effort ended because of lack of funding.
“The sustainability of efforts in any organization are always dependent upon the amount of money available,” he said.
In Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation provides much of the funding, Rucker said. In Youngstown, he said the programming would rely on “corporate Youngstown and philanthropic Youngstown.”
One of those partners is local businessman Bruce Zoldan, a longtime supporter of Amer-I-Can. Zoldan has helped coordinate a Saturday fundraiser that will include remarks from Brown, who also is expected to attend the Phantoms Hockey game. Zoldan owns the Phantoms.
“We are raising the funds through the business community, and the mayor’s going [to Cleveland] to understand it in more detail. I’m confident that it will come through,” Zoldan said.
In 2006, Amer-I-Can was poised to return to the city, but that effort stalled.
Regardless of the past, Zoldan said something needs to be done to lower violent crime. “I hope this time it works,” he said.