State violence prevention grants help local efforts

In October, Governor Deval Patrick pledged to the family of 13-year-old murder victim Steven Odom that he would try his best to bring about change and stop the violence that has been snatching young lives in city neighborhoods.

"I feel like it's time for grief, I feel like it's time for praise, I feel like it's time for action," the governor said, according to community activist Lew Finfer. "This is not the order of things; parents are not supposed to bury their children. If a 13-year-old gets in the way of a stray bullet, we are not doing enough. I accept my responsibility. We must all accept our responsibility."

Finfer, a Dorchester resident and leader of The Safe Teens/Safe Communities Coalition, saw the appearance as a way to step forward in the fight against youth violence.

"He showed such a strong commitment to responsibility there, a commitment that I have not seen by a governor in 35 years of community work," Finfer said.

The Safe Teens/Safe Communities Coalition was able to meet with Patrick in November to discuss with him the need for funding in youth prevention programs, drawing specifically on his words at Odom's funeral. Last week they saw the first steps toward a response, or at least what they would like to think of as only a first step.

Patrick announced his Youth Violence Prevention Pilot Program, a total of $2 million given out to 21 prevention centers across the city. Some of the groups that received funding in Dorchester include DotWell - which received $100,000 - and Project RIGHT in Grove Hall ($90,000). The Black Ministerial Alliance also received $105,000, of which some will enter Dorchester ministries. Finfer and the group were excited with the response from the governor's administration.

"It is definitely positive that they were able to start the pilot program at $2 million," Finfer said.

But in a twist not often seen in government grant proposals, the Department of Public Health, which approved the 21 recipients, also listed 20 additional groups they thought were worthy of a grant, but which the program could not fund. There were 63 applicants in total, with almost half of them being deemed worthy but only a third getting the funding. Finfer believes this points to the validity of prevention programs and hopes the recognition of need will bring in more funding.

"It was very helpful that they were looking to be so honest in that way, and for them to go out of their way to say that, I think it's a positive," he said. "It is unique to see that."

But Finfer is using that second list as a tool right now, pleading with the governor and members of his cabinet to increase the funding immediately. He is reaching out to people to get in contact with the governor and ask for additional funding for those groups, especially as he decides on the budget this month. He thinks the DPH will be able to spend more money in the same program if given the chance.

"There were a lot of quality proposals for the programs, if they do get more money [the DPH] would likely be inclined to give it to those on the list without making them re-apply."

Some of the groups on the list that didn't receive the funding include Dorchester Community Collaborative's Medical Foundation, Family Service of Greater Boston, and The Center for Teen Empowerment. In the end, Finfer hopes his work saves someone long before they even know they need to be saved.

"In prevention you are working with youth that may never have been in trouble but may either be at risk to violence immediately, or if not at a risk for violence, are at risk for other factors like drugs and social situations," said Finfer.