Community Violence Intervention Center
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
Listening sessions were instrumental in refining our 2-Generation Plan to End Violence, now called the Safer Tomorrows Road Map (STR). We held 22 listening sessions with 154 people: 31 professionals, 23 youth, 33 community members, 30 staff members, 17 government officials, 4 survivors, 9 donors, and 7 board members. We conducted fewer sessions than we initially felt were needed, in part because the feedback was very consistent among groups. Participants received education about violence-related trauma, building resiliency, and our STR, and they responded that the plan seems valid as it is based on research/data and clearly shows the desired change, the array of services and attention to the impact of trauma was important, and the plan offers hope and a proactive strategy to end violence, with the potential of being replicated in other communities. They suggested we add clients’ experiences to our message, be more inclusive of adults, and adjust the presentation to each group as some people may first need more basic information. We have already revised our STR presentation by adding clients’ experiences to better connect with participants and are addressing other suggestions.
Another key component of our work was to engage community stakeholders who are capable of making a significant investment toward implementing the STR, as our innovation will not happen without financial backing. In addition to the listening sessions above, we shared our vision with 62 community members through nine presentations using video, PowerPoint, and materials providing both an overview and details of our STR. The local hospital CEO spoke at almost every presentation, sharing his belief in our plan and the hospital’s major investment, lending even more credibility to our efforts. In part because of steps described below, these stakeholders were enthusiastic about the plan and believe, as we do, that we can build a community in which violence is the exception, not the norm. In just a handful of months, local individuals and businesses have demonstrated their belief in this plan by investing an impressive $975,000 over the next 6 years.
In addition to raising awareness and obtaining feedback, we addressed three key STR components: safety, healing and healthy relationship education. To promote safety, we attained our goal of building a new shelter; without it, we would see skyrocketing rates of injury and compounding effects of trauma among generations. The beautiful new facility opened earlier this month, doubling our capacity to house women and children in danger. To address healing, we sponsored two trainings on trauma-informed therapy, bringing in certified professionals to train 15 therapists in the community on Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), an evidence-based therapy. To attain our goal of reaching more traumatized children and adults, these therapists, of which 93% received certification, have agreed to provide some services at reduced fees to low-income clients. Also, to sustain our therapeutic services, we made great progress toward initiating third-party pay for clients who can safety use their insurance. Finally, seven school districts in Grand Forks County implemented evidence-based education to K-12 students to promote healthy relationships and prevent violence.
Key lessons learned
From the listening sessions and presentations, we learned critical lessons about how to share our vision of ending violence in two generations. While the data and research findings were important, we realized we needed to make our vision come alive through sharing client experiences so people could engage emotionally and relate to our plan. In our subsequent presentations, we added a poignant video clip about a boy raised in a violent home, artwork depicting the fears and experiences of children served by CVIC, and client stories. Participants commented that these steps brought our message home. We also learned the importance of detail. First, while we had our long-term vision of ending violence, it wasn’t until we defined our short-term strategy, essentially communicating the “now” to the community by breaking out milestones over the next decade and identifying a “tipping point” at which we believe violence will begin to decrease, that people could grasp it and believe that we have an attainable goal. We also developed professional materials and a PowerPoint presentation, which we continually refined using community feedback; these were critical to our efforts.
While we gleaned important ideas to refine our STR from the listening sessions, they came primarily from our collaborative partners and supporters, who already understand our issues and vision. General community members, on the other hand, had positive reactions to our message and plan, but weren’t equipped to provide feedback for refinement, sometimes giving us the “deer in the headlights” look when we asked them for advice. We realized that we now must back up and initiate an awareness campaign that addresses our STR but at a more basic level. In the coming months, utilizing experts and community stakeholders, we will identify specific populations to reach (including an emphasis on culturally diverse populations) and key messages that will strengthen our efforts. For example, we learned we need to do a lot more awareness raising on adverse childhood experiences and prevalence in our community, as well as how parents can address issues with their children, and expand our use of social media to promote our STR.
Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving
The element of inclusivity was critically important. To truly end violence, we must invest in models of change that address our underlying acceptance of violence as a culture. This requires a model that is representative of all sectors of the community, as one group may understand or respond to violence and prevention efforts differently than another. We must hear the ideas and experiences of a wide cross-section of the community. Thus, we involved current partners and stakeholders from collaborative projects, rural individuals, violence survivors, area youth, donors, professionals, government leaders, foundation representatives, service clubs and others. We have invited culturally diverse populations to the table and will continue to request their involvement. Without a truly inclusive approach, we will not get far in ending the ever-pervasive culture of accepting violence as the norm.
Other key elements of Community Innovation
As we increased understanding/generated ideas, we developed and strengthened our hypothesis for ending local violence that is based on science, involving five years of research, guidance from national experts, and community involvement. We considered the way safety, healing and prevention education interrelate to end violence in a systemic, not linear, way. (Education delivered to 100% of the county’s students is key, yet if kids aren’t safe or live with untreated trauma, the components will work against each other.) Using research, we identified the number of youth impacted by violence/trauma, incorporated evidence-based practices, and identified the likely tipping point in which violence will begin to decrease – about 2025 as the first class of students graduates as young adults (having received healthy relationship education from Pre-K to 12), those most traumatized have received therapy to heal, and fewer children are exposed to violence as families have resources to end violence. The integrity of our research, its direct application to/involvement from the community, and baseline data will allow us to continually test our progress and allow our findings to guide our way.
Understanding the problem
The listening sessions provided clarity on elements that will be critical to the success of our STR. For example, participants brought up the need to educate parents on trauma and ways to help not only their children, but also themselves, to heal. Further, as we received input on refining our plan, we developed a short-term strategy, breaking out annual milestones over the next decade and identifying a “tipping point” at which we believe violence will begin to decrease. This provided crucial details regarding what will be required for implementation, such as the number of staff needed to carry out goals in safety, healing and prevention education; we then had clarity about the resources needed and were able to demonstrate to investors the specific dollar amounts needed to implement the plan, already raising 24% (nearly $1 million) of the $4 million needed over nine years. We also then could institutionalize this information into a services operational plan, identifying and tracking the number of people we serve each year toward our goals. Progress reports will be provided three times a year to staff and board to keep our innovation at the forefront of our efforts.
If you could do it all over again...
The listening sessions gave us an understanding that the level of awareness of our general community was not as high in the areas of violence and trauma as we had anticipated. As mentioned, our collaborative partners and supporters were already on board with our work and vision, but the general community had more to learn. Had we known that from the beginning of the grant period, we could had adjusted our message to better fit the people attending our sessions. We could have structured our listening sessions differently to accommodate this, asked different questions of participants, and provided more basic information to help them better understand the issues. Rather than providing feedback on just what CVIC could do to end violence, for example, they may have been more aware that it is also their issue and could have offered input on what community members could also do to end violence and build resilient children and families.
One last thought
This whole experience has been extremely beneficial as we look to refine out Safer Tomorrow Road Map. We were so encouraged to learn that our community truly wants this innovation; people want to be part of a community that doesn’t just react to a problem, but that thoughtfully and creatively works to stop the problem from occurring in the first place. They are excited about the progress we have made, such as a reduction of 31% in students surveyed reporting bullying and 46% in reporting sexual violence. But they are also excited that our plan is solid, with extensive research, local input, and annual measures toward our goals. After we shared our vision, community members put their money where their mouth is and demonstrated their confidence in our plan. Even professionals on the national level, including members of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, have their eyes on our innovation, which we hope to make a pilot project statewide and, eventually, nationwide. But we will need significant investment – another $3 million over the next eight years – to finally turn the tide and end local violence.