CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Money is now on the way to groups in communities across Illinois, and it’s the state’s latest effort to achieve Victory Over Violence.
Governor Pritzker announced on Tuesday $100 million in grants to organizations that work to prevent and interrupt gun violence. But it’s not the first grant of its kind.
Pritzker already announced in May that $113 million would be handed out to community groups to help eliminate violence. The $100 million he announced on Tuesday is an addition to that.
Representatives of two Champaign-based organizations said they’ve experienced what this money can do and they are hoping to get some of it.
“There are no places to hang out so what do I do? I hang out on the corner, I hang out at somebody else’s house where there is maybe no parental guidance, and now that’s how we get in trouble,” said Pastor Willie Comer of Youth for Christ.
Comer said that to be a fisher of men, you need to use the right tactics to hook a fish on the line.
“When we’re able to have space and funding, it shows our kids that they are appreciated,” he said.
The same thing applies when combatting violence. To teach kids how to behave differently, you need resources that will capture their attention. One way his ministry does that is through food.
“We’re in every school now in Champaign doing what we call lunch crews where we go in, we have lunch and we get a chance to sit with 40, 50 kids every single week,” Comer said.
But providing food isn’t free. Comer said it costs $100 a week to visit one school, and they go to five a week for the more than 30 weeks students are in session. That’s about $15,000 every school year.
“I don’t care about the food, the food is just the draw,” Comer said. “But what it allows us to do is get kids in front of us so that we can begin to impact them with information that will change their behavior.”
Comer isn’t the only one using student interests to earn the voice to be heard. Tony Odom, a community leader and mentor, is doing the same.
“My programs, it’s basically for inner city kids, the people that don’t have opportunities,” Odom said.
Odom uses free basketball clinics and haircuts as a segue into important life lessons like dropping the guns.
“There’s a reason why these kids are acting out in that way,” Odom said. “It just doesn’t start off ‘Hey here’s a gun, okay.'”
Both groups need more money so they can reach more students and provide better resources. They’re hoping these latest grants will do just that.
“If this money is allocated toward the correct way or the correct places it can be effective,” Odom said.
“Definitely a game changer in anti-violence amongst our young people,” Comer said.
Champaign isn’t the only community to qualify for these grants. Urbana, Danville, Decatur and Springfield also qualify.
People who would like to get involved can find free resources on the Illinois Department of Human Services’ website to help groups apply for those grants. The grants are available for violence prevention organizations that include trauma-informed behavioral health services and youth intervention services.