Safe & Sound refocuses mission

With a newly established strategic plan, Safe & Sound is beefing up its community organizing and youth organizing initiatives to build safe, empowered neighborhoods and refocusing its funding in order to maximize its impact.

Since its inception in 1998, the nonprofit has sponsored “safe places” – area organizations like United Community Center and Boys & Girls Clubs that specialize in youth development programming and youth-led crime reduction strategies. But as Safe & Sound implements its new strategy this year, the organization will no longer fund safe places in the community.

“After a thorough strategic planning process and consideration of Safe & Sound’s financial model, we made the difficult decision to shift out of our role as a funder in 2015 and focus our resources on our core competencies,” said Katie Sanders, executive director of the nonprofit. “Our neighborhood strategy, which now includes youth-focused organizing, allows Safe & Sound to maintain a sustainable financial model and deepens our impact in the community.”

While the nonprofit’s goal has always centered on improving safety on a neighborhood basis, the delivery of its services has evolved throughout the past decade.

Safe & Sound’s original purpose aimed to ensure quality after-school programming was available in the community, but overtime it has magnified its focus on community organizing. In 2010, Safe & Sound created a community prosecution unit function, which is comprised of civilian coordinators who serve with one foot in law enforcement and the other in the community to strength information sharing between the two and ensure priorities are aligned.

Safe & Sound’s new model, which has been two years in the making, will leverage the success of its community organizing movement as the nonprofit deploys teams of community organizing staff members across four police districts in Milwaukee. The nonprofit will zero in on eight neighborhoods total – two neighborhoods in police districts two, three, five and seven. Those neighborhoods will be announced later this month.

Within each police district three salaried staff members will collaborate to reinforce safety initiatives, including one community prosecution unit coordinator who will cover the entire district and a community organizer and youth organizer who will have a presence in both district neighborhoods.

While community organizers will focus on traditional safety community organizing, such as building block watches and ameliorating relations with police, youth organizers will work to engage area youth in community improvement programs and projects as well as connect them with positive role models. Among those positions, Safe & Sound plans to hire one bilingual community organizer and one bilingual youth organizer.

Each district team’s efforts will be bolstered by two in-house community organizers who work in a broader capacity across Milwaukee to assist project-based initiatives as well as forge dialogue between area youth and police.

The youth organizing component is especially critical to Safe & Sound’s new strategy, according to organization officials.

“What it does is it takes a new resource into these communities that can attract young people who are not involved in youth programs and bring them into those programs that they’re operating,” said Kimberly Kane, Safe & Sound board chair.

Under its new model, which Safe & Sound aims to expand to other police districts as well as help other cities replicate, the nonprofit also plans to facilitate a mini grant program. Grants of $300 to $500 will support neighborhood projects and initiatives empowering residents and youth to address community safety.

The organization’s decision to away from the Safe Places program is not a reflection of the quality of after-school programs the 18 participating agencies are providing, Sanders said, but rather a reflection of Safe & Sound’s ability to serve as a funder.

“Our revenue streams are not set up to serve as a funder,” Sanders said, adding that Safe & Sound has experienced operating deficits as a result of its previous funding model.

During fiscal year 2014, Safe & Sound distributed about $580,000 in grants through its Safe Places program, awarding $20,000 and $40,000 to organizations involved. About $175,000 of total grant funds were given out as Community Development Block Grants from the City of Milwaukee, with $15,000 of CDBG funding earmarked for administration costs.

The rest of grant funds came from the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and private fundraising.

Since revamping its strategy, Safe & Sound released CDBG funding back to the city.

According to Steven Mahan, director of Milwaukee’s Community Development Grants Administration, the Safe Places organizations that received CDBG funding in 2014, seven total as selected by Safe & Sound, are again receiving CDBG funds this year.

The other 11 organizations, whose grant dollars stemmed from Safe & Sound’s federal funding and private fundraising, will not receive funds this year.

Looking to 2016 and beyond, the fate of Safe Places grant funding is in question.

Regardless of Safe & Sound’s new direction, the Safe Places program is seen as a valued asset for youth services, Mahan said.

“So we’re working with a number of entities and foundations to see what will happen,” he said.

ArtWorks for Milwaukee, a nonprofit that helps teens build life skills through art internships, is among the Safe Places organizations impacted by Safe & Sound’s revamped strategy.
Terry Murphy, executive director, said she has been in frequent contact with Safe & Sound’s leadership and knew the organization was undergoing a strategic planning process for a long time.

“I respect what they did in terms of strategy and sustainability,” Murphy said. “Obviously anytime a funding cut comes like this it’s difficult for a nonprofit, and we’re very small, but we respect their decision.”

Safe & Sound’s decision speaks to nonprofits’ need to ensure their funding is backed by a diverse pool of resources, Murphy said.

“You have to be prepared for changes like this,” she said. “You can’t rely on one funder or one source.”

The future of ArtWorks for Milwaukee is not in jeopardy because of the funding cut, Murphy said. The organization plans to pursue new avenues of funding, including corporate, individual and foundation donations, to fill the gap now in place.

Neighborhood House, another youth-serving agency affected by the funding cut, will have to become “more creative” with its fundraising endeavors and programming, according to James Austin, teen coordinator at the nonprofit.

Austin said that while the cut came as a disappointment to Neighborhood House and caused a scale down in staff hours, it has also prompted the organization to become “a little stronger in fundraising.”

“We have to continue to be aggressive when we’re going out there and looking for funding for our programs,” he said.

Erica Breunlin is a staff reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.

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