WE ARE HOMETOWN NEWS.

HOLYOKE — The Finance Committee voted to approve a new year of funding from the Shannon Community Safety Initiative grant during its Feb. 12 meeting, marking another year of the city using the funds.

The Charles E. Shannon Community Safety Initiative is a multi-sector approach used to address a community’s hang and youth violence problem that focuses on social intervention, suppression, opportunity provision, organizational change and community mobilization. It is funded through a state agency that is part of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

The approved funding will bring in $576,814.28, with a 25% match paid by subrecipients, to the city to continue work with the city’s youth.

Helping break down the grant and to answer any questions from the committee was Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke Executive Director Eileen Cavanaugh and Holyoke Police Sergeant Joseph Zurheide.

Zurheide said this is a longstanding grant for the city and that it is used to partner with multiple organizations such as both the Chicopee and Holyoke Boys & Girls Club, the Pa’lante Transformative Justice, Holyoke Community College, the Hampden County Sheriff’s department and MassHire.

At-Large Councilor Israel Rivera asked if Cavanaugh had any information she or the police department could share that help reflect the impacts made through this initiative and its funding coming to Holyoke for nearly a decade. Rivera added he is a supporter of this initiative but felt being able to have a clear understanding of where this money has gone and how it has impacted helps provide clarity for the community.

Cavanaugh said the integrity of the grant was real and that through her work on the grant, they have a third party research partnership with the University of Massachusetts Amherst that helps evaluate each of the Shannon funded partners.

“They are hired directly by the state by the executive office of public safety, to evaluate Shannon’s partners effectiveness within the initiative,” Cavanaugh said. “It has been a very long standing grant with the community of Holyoke. We are very fortunate and its worth knowing that the areas are very specific. It’s here to support youth ages 14-24 with suppression intervention and prevention activities so we are specifically dealing with agencies and organizations who are directly working with that age group specifically around doing prevention services in particular.”

Cavanaugh added this is a competitive annual grant and that if there was no work getting done, the money would have most likely slowed up for Holyoke.

“Not only are we fulfilling a year-round final report, but we’re also doing mid year reports. Periodically, the state has come and done site visits with our Shannon partners so this is a really well monitored program throughout the state as well,” Cavanaugh said.

At-Large Councilor Patti Devine agreed with Rivera’s question as she felt it was important to have some of this data readily available to showcase the impacts coming from the program.

At-Large Councilor Kevin Jourdain said the Shannon initiative was a wonderful program and credited it for helping lower youth crime. He also thought some shared analytics or supports backing up this work would be nice to see at a later date.

“The overall point is, did the Massachusetts taxpayer, who pays for all this, get a good bang for their dollar, right? Are we actually making a difference more than anecdotally, so I think that would be interesting to look at,” Jourdain said.

Cavanaugh encouraged Jourdain and others looking to learn more about the Shannon Initiative and its history by visiting the mass.gov website page dedicated to the Shannon Initiative.

“I can certainly at a future date, when invited, be happy to present that,” Cavanaugh said.

At-Large Councilor Michael Sullivan said he had believed Pa’Lante to have been a Political Action Committee and was confused on their work. Rivera responded explaining they were a nonprofit focused on educating and empowering youth on taking civic agency over themselves and over their community. He added they used to operate more as a formal school but have branched into nonprofit work with at-risk youth.

“They have a significant sized group of at-risk youth that are engaged in civic pride. One of them asked me personally who their city councilor was and I told him it was Miss Ocasio, and that one day I would be able to facilitate a meeting for them because they live in that community,” Rivera explained. “I did work there for like two years when I first came out of prison myself, and to say that some of the youth back then and to see them now, almost 10 years later, some of them work for us as DPW workers driving trucks and doing the trash, and other ones have their own small businesses and are successful in their own right.”

Rivera continued, “This is why I am kind of asking them to do this full glimpse of what’s happened over the last several years so that we can see the positive outcomes. And usually, the benchmark is how much more engaged are these youth with nonprofit agencies, schools, police, than they were before. That’s how they measure. It’s hard to measure crime and its hard to measure consistency of crime. The way they try and measure it is more engagement with positive institutions, more or less.”

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