All of the host organizations worked faithfully to implement the NYC crisis management system. When they began, each organization had at least a decade of experience in working with youth in their respective communities. They also shared the common goal of reducing violence in New York City. Staff members in each agency brought an obvious passion to the work that they do, and the program directors and managers demonstrated great rapport with staff. The missions of each organization appeared to fit well with the crisis management system, allowing each organization to focus on its strengths.
Each organization implementing the crisis management system is responsible for managing the core elements of the Cure Violence model, including violence interruption and outreach work to mediate conflicts and prevent violence. Community mobilization is also a key component of the Cure Violence model, involving public outreach through the use of educational materials (i.e. posters, flyers, bumper stickers). The purpose of this component is to educate the community about the program and its operations, with the long term goal of changing group norms. All program sites are making a great effort to reach out to community members and educate them about their mission, but this effort is still in its beginning phases.
Of course, the host organizations differ in their knowledge of and experience with the Cure Violence model. The teams in East New York and Harlem, for example, have been running Cure Violence programs for several years, but the program was less familiar for Jamaica-Queens and the South Bronx, and the program in Staten Island was just in the planning stage. Also, East New York and Harlem have begun to implement the hospital component of Cure Violence. The hospital component allows the staff to interact with gun violence victims very quickly and in a safe place.
Launching the Cure Violence model is not an easy task, and the job is even more challenging when supplemental services are added to the model as in New York’s crisis management system. Fortunately, the sites implementing the model have the advantage of numbers. The leaders and staff members in the four programs support one another during regular meetings and at trainings and other events hosted by the Cure Violence office in Chicago, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), and others.
In each program site, the strength of the effort begins with the street credibility and focus of staff members. Each host organization assembles hiring panels to recruit new staff members, and ongoing training on the Cure Violence model helps to create a stable and cohesive work environment for the staff because it educates staff members on the purposes and goals of the program and enables them to operate with a unified perspective. The national Cure Violence office recommends that staff members undergo training before a community begins to implement the model and that multiple refresher training sessions are included as a routine practice.
All the sites agree that blending Cure Violence with wrap-around services enhances the Cure Violence model. Wrap-around services are used to assist participants with their mental health, legal, and employment needs. Program staff members emphasize that job readiness and job training programs, in particular, are critical to providing youth with an alternative to street life and the violence that often comes with it. Each program has worked to incorporate legal education workshops and community health services for participants’ families and members of the community. Program staff members also provide conflict mediation programs at local schools to equip youth with pro-social and assertive skills to mediate conflicts.
Staff members also stress that coordinating wrap-around services can be challenging. Often, external providers are not grassroots organizations located in close proximity to the host organization, and this can make it difficult for participants to utilize the wrap-around services. The program participants are from disadvantaged environments with little social capital, and they are often reluctant to travel outside of their neighborhoods due to their group affiliations (i.e., gangs, crews, and cliques). In some cases, traveling merely from one subway stop to the next presents serious safety issues. When wrap-around service providers are located very near the host organization, participants may utilize the services more and benefit more from them. Still, staff members report that they are working hard to make the current arrangements as effective as possible.
The nature of the funding stream supporting each organization has also been an obstacle. Each provider received first-year funding at a different time during the fiscal year, which prevented the programs from coordinating their start-up efforts, especially in the sites that did not receive additional funding from other sources to implement the Cure Violence program. The instability of funding also creates uncertainty among the staff. Anxiety and burn out are common problems for violence interrupters and outreach workers, and the possibility of funding disruptions magnifies the stress of the work. In fact, the program managers believe that there is a need for mental health services for staff. To date, the New York City Mission Society – the host organization for the Cure Violence program in Harlem – is the only organization that provides mental health services for staff members.
All Cure Violence sites agree that the success of the program depends upon the selection of a strong team of credible messengers who are committed to helping their communities. Violence interrupters and outreach workers become role models for local youth who are dealing with social and personal problems that may lead them to violence. The program staff from Harlem, South Bronx, East New York and Jamaica Queens believe that the Cure Violence initiative and the New York City crisis management system together provide a new and promising model for them to resolve conflicts in their neighborhoods and to prevent the escalation of violence.