$1.2 million grant awarded to Unified Erie for first reentry strategy

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A $1.2 million grant was awarded Friday to the Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC), the organization that will implement the first reentry initiative of Unified Erie.

The Unified Erie plan is a three-prong approach aimed at reducing crime and combating violence in the community. The plan encompasses prevention, enforcement and reentry.

Friday morning in Perry Square, the large check was presented to GECAC in an “unprecedented collaboration between the United Way of Erie County and The Erie Community Foundation,” the two organizations which provided the grant money.

The three-year grant will allow GECAC to fund the implementation of a community call-in strategy as well as provide significant levels of assistance to at-risk youth and ex-offenders looking to reenter society.

“What it will mean is there is going to be targeted efforts towards a safer community and everybody benefits from that,” said director of the Mercyhurst Civic Institute, Amy Eisert. “So those that want to disengage from a life of crime, who are in the community currently, will have the opportunity to do that. In addition, those who are coming back into our community from incarceration will have opportunities as well.”

The grant funding will allow GECAC to create and manage what Unified Erie calls the Erie County Reentry Services and Support Alliance (ECRSSA). The alliance will provide support and services to ex-offenders and at-risk youth through a network of community and faith-based organizations in partnership with the criminal justice system. The financial resource provided by the grant will further allow for services like housing, employment, mentoring, education and transportation for crime-prone individuals, as a way to steer them away from illegal activities.

The Unified Erie plan uses information gathered solely from law enforcement when identifying eligible candidates for the reentry program, all of whom are on the path to a life of crime.

“[It is] based on official crime data, no demographic data whatsoever,” said Eisert.

“If you’re struggling in the community and return to criminal activity, you have got to get some positive things in your life,” said CEO of GECAC, Ron Steele. “There’s other alternatives to violence when you have conflicts and things going on in your life. There are people that are out there that can talk to you and coach you and train you how to deal with the different conflicts that exist. Frustration brings violence and we need to tell our young people it doesn’t have to happen that way.”

Steele said GECAC decided to take on the role of ‘parent organization’ for the Unified Erie reentry strategy because they have played an active role in community activism for the past 50 years.

“We have a lot of positive things in this community to offer our kids and we should take the time to make sure that they are aware of it,” said Steele. “We need to bring that to them…a lot of them don’t know [of it]. This will be an opportunity for us to step forward and say ‘here we are, come on board…let us help you’.”

Erie City Councilman, Curtis Jones Jr., spoke at Friday’s grant presentation drawing a comparison between the individuals this reentry initiative targets and a broken or injured part of the body (Jones actually has his right arm in a cast due to a recent injury).

“There are certain areas and points in time that certain parts of the body, or the family, need more attention than others,” said Jones, referring to young African-American members of Erie and other communities across the country. “We have certain areas in our community locally, nationally, globally…that really need more attention. It’s important for the whole community to be a part of this strategy because it would get people who may not normally interact, to interact. And they will be able to break down general stereotypes of the other person that they don’t normally interact with.”

Jones, who traveled to Kansas City last year to see firsthand how that city’s reentry initiative has dramatically reduced crime and violence, said Friday that all of us need to stretch out of our comfort zones in order to become a more united region.

“White people need to stretch themselves, black people need to stretch themselves, poor people need to stretch themselves, financially affluent people need to stretch themselves,” said Jones, adding that violence is the result of a particular, flawed mindset. “It’s a result of people not valuing themselves and not seeing value in others because of our differences.” 

For more information on the organizations involved, see below:


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