As Chicago experiences a historic rise in gun violence this summer, Breakthrough is strategically responding in the East Garfield Park community and remaining hopeful in the effectiveness of violence prevention work.

Breakthrough is part of Communities Partnering 4 Peace, a collaboration of leading outreach organizations in 23 neighborhoods most affected by gun violence. CP4P, convened by Metropolitan Family Services, provides a year-round, comprehensive approach to reducing violence in Chicago. 

And since March, Breakthrough’s violence prevention team has turned their focus to not only act as outreach workers, but also as public health educators disseminating information about COVID-19.

Young community influencers join violence reduction effort

To enhance violence reduction efforts in East Garfield Park, Breakthrough is implementing a unique program called Flatlining Violence Inspires Peace (FLIP). FLIP leverages the influence of community residents by partnering with young men and women who live in neighborhoods that are at a high risk for violence. These individuals are given a stipend to act as peacekeepers and mediate conflict in their communities.

The annual program organized by Communities Partnering 4 Peace and Chicago CRED addresses two specific needs: peaking gun violence in the summer months and a lack of employment opportunities for those most at risk.

This specialized form of hyper-local street intervention focuses on blocks identified by outreach workers and neighbors as active areas. It is highly nimble and can be adjusted on a daily basis based on real-time needs. FLIP workers occupy these hot spots when violence is most active, track social media, and reduce tensions. Their presence alone may help reduce criminal activity.

FLIP workers are supported by Breakthrough’s outreach workers, who respond directly to instances of violence, as well as case managers, who provide resources to the community. Additionally, these individuals are receiving resource support, career pathway support, invitations to safe spaces throughout the year, and access to a pilot youth leadership program.

outreach worker at block party

Damien Morris, Director of Breakthrough’s Violence Prevention Initiative, relates to and advocates for the young people in the community. “I want them to understand that we believe in them and they have the potential to become their own leader,” he said. “We’re giving them a different path.”

In coordination with violence prevention and reduction efforts in communities across Chicago, this public health strategy is driving out violence and continuing to provide public education regarding the transmission of COVID-19.

Partnering with the community, block-by-block

Throughout the summer, Breakthrough is hosting localized block parties in East Garfield Park. These events are being supported by FLIP workers and are in partnership with the community, block-by-block. Because of COVID-19, the parties are smaller in scale and focus on the individuals already spending time together.

Each event will include a small grill, packaged food, social distanced activities, and opportunities for neighborhood children. The goal is to engage neighbors and to eventually encourage them to take the lead to create safe space in their community by supplying equipment in a starter kit.

Despite the rise in violence, Breakthrough’s violence prevention team remains hopeful. And there’s much to be hopeful about. According to data from the Chicago Police Department, crime in East Garfield Park has decreased, compared to years past.

“We believe that hope is imperative to restoring and revitalizing our community,” said Yolanda Fields, Chief Program Officer of the Adult Support Network. “All of the violence prevention activities are about building and restoring hope in our community. Hope looks like a safe, stable, and engaged East Garfield Park.”