Building a Safe Community

To reduce violence and increase safety, all of us must be part of the solution.

by Becky Rossman, Peoria Community Against Violence
Sandra Leathers tragically lost her son Andre to gun violence on June 29, 2020.
Sandra Leathers tragically lost her son Andre to gun violence on June 29, 2020.

The middle of a pandemic is probably not the best time to leave a job you love for the uncertainty of a grant-based position—but sometimes you feel called to take a leap of faith. I am not referring to the global pandemic, but the pandemic of violence which again landed Peoria in CBS News’ top 25 most dangerous cities in America last year. On my first day as CEO of PCAV (Peoria Community Against Violence), there were three shootings, and sadly this continued throughout the week. Decreasing this violence is not going to be easy and will require a community-wide effort.

Filling the Gaps

Until recently, PCAV was a volunteer-based organization which has done a great job responding to the families of homicide victims and bringing the community together through events like P-Town Soup. With the addition of paid positions, we are now able to provide comprehensive case management services to the entire family. Some families need help paying for burial services, temporary housing if there is an investigation, or specialized cleaning after a shooting disrupts their lives.

One of the major gaps we plan to focus on is ensuring that victims’ children under the age of 14 will have access to trauma-
based counseling. To that end, we are expanding our volunteer Crisis Response Team, which will receive national training later this month based upon best practices. Our long-term goal is to be proactive instead of reactive, so we are also creating a Street Intervention Team. This team will provide a visible presence in identified high-crime areas during peak incident times, while working to build relationships within the community. This has been one of the most effective deterrents of gun violence throughout the United States.

It’s not a coincidence that two of the poorest zip codes in the State of Illinois, 61605 and 61603, also have high crime rates. Poverty is a significant contributor to crime due to the lack of resources and support network, and the increased prevalence of trauma. Sandra Leathers works to help young, single mothers who are at risk, despite taking in four grandchildren under the age of 10 when she lost her son Andre last summer. “These moms could use classes on parenting as well as people to help mentor them,” she explains. While the community is resource-rich, many do not know where to go for help.

A Proactive Mission

The mission of PCAV is to reduce violence and increase safety in the Peoria community by educating and responding to violence proactively. I am drawn to this mission because I have consistently witnessed the impacts of violence on people I care about.

Five years ago, I spoke at a vigil for one of my employees who was murdered. I saw many of the children we served and some of our team lose family members to gun violence. While I often go running at night, I think of my friends who live 20 minutes away—yet on some days, it isn’t safe enough for them to go outside. Everyone deserves to feel safe, but it is going to take the entire community to come together to make this happen. This is your call to action to be part of the solution. PM

To volunteer, donate or get involved, send an email to pcavceo@gmail.com.

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