Millions of dollars into Indy's programming for youth working to turn tide of crime

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Millions of dollars are being poured into programs offered to kids, teens and young adults in the city. The Lilly Endowment Inc. Fund just awarded 13 organizations grant money totaling $54.7 million. The grant money is to strengthen the programs' specific endowments to set them up for success.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis received $7.5 million from the Lilly Endowment fund. CEO Maggie Lewis said this, along with donations from the community, is going to sustain them for a long time.

"The bulk of that money is going to be put away to make sure that we are stable, and we are around for many years to come," Lewis said. "So, we don't want folks to think we don't need the support anymore. We really depend on the generosity of the people in our great city to support us so that we are here each and every day for the kids that need us most."

The ten clubs serve nearly 6,000 children annually. They provide a safe, educational environment to help them grow. The club reported 81% of the children they serve qualify for free or reduced lunch, half of them come from single-family households.

"A place where they can come and get mentorship, where they can come and get meals, to get the support they need to truly be the kids that they are called to be," Lewis said.

The Central Indiana Community Foundation awarded millions in crime prevention grant money 2019. The city's Office of Public Health and Safety added an additional $300,000 total in grants for five grassroots organizations. One of those organizations is VOICES which has several programs under their umbrella.

"All of our kids are system-impacted," Founder Kia Wright said. "So, they are court ordered from either the juvenile detention center or department of child services."

Through the Power and Promise program, youth learn how to mentor and lead other children. Peer-to-Peer leadership is something the city's crime reduction team and these grassroots organizations feel is an answer to the youth violence.

"We asked them, 'what is it going to take to try to change what's happening in our communities,'" Wright explained. "They said, "let us talk to the younger kids." We began paying them $8 per hour to go through our leadership training so they learn about conflict resolution, building relationships, community organizing, and we have five school partners that allows them to come in and mentor the younger kids."

IMPD's 2019 homicide numbers show 30 young people under 20 years old died because someone shot them or stabbed them. So far this year, two other teens have died by gunfire. Shonna Majors, the city's director of community violence reduction, said the numbers are serious, and these programs are helping.

"I think about those numbers every day, every night, all night sometimes," Majors said. "I have to be optimistic that what we're doing is working. I know that 2019 was the first year in 10 years that we've had any reduction."

Majors said consistency is key and working together is of utmost importance.

"It's going to take some time to see a drastic reduction in changes, but I think if we continue to push and not getting discouraged that we will eventually see those numbers turn around," Majors said. "And, I think the most important piece that my office wants to focus on is peer mentoring and peer conflict resolution."

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