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The Cleveland City Council is considering a $1 million proposal to bring additional counselors and training to staff to the city's 21 recreation centers, something supporters say will help reduce youth violence and crime.
As part of the proposed program, the city would sign a contract with Frontline Service, a non-profit mental health provider. In addition to training the staff at the city’s nearly two dozen recreation centers, the proposal would also place an additional counselor at each facility. The plan is part of Mayor Frank Jackson’s initiative to reduce youth violence.
For children and teenagers dealing with toxic stress and trauma, experts believe the earlier they receive treatment or counseling the better off they will be. Supporters say the recreation centers are the best places to give this help because, in many neighborhoods, they have become much more than a place to play basketball — they've become community centers. For many kids, they’re also a place of refuge, said Councilman Blaine Griffin.
“That’s what we want our centers to be,” Councilman Griffin said. “In the school year, [the kids] come directly after school. A lot of them come here to get help with homework. We want to add that extra dimension where we actually make sure we promote healthy communities. This is a major systems change, because we’re doing more than just talking about dribbling the basketball. We’re talking about how we can invest in the healthy nature of human beings.”
Councilman Griffin, who supports the proposal, said in no way will the initiative turn the recreation centers into mental health hospitals. Instead, the program will take advantage of the already-cemented relationships that many recreation center staff members have with the neighborhood kids.
“We want to be able to identify [stress and trauma] better, to identify it sooner,” Councilman Griffin said. “We want staff to be able to identify what resources are available to connect them to. And make sure we have a system of care in our [recreation] centers that does more than just say, ‘you can come in here and blow off some steam.'"
Councilman Kerry McCormack also supports the program. He believes it is important to invest resources on the front end. By doing so, McCormack believes the city’s youth can break the crime and poverty cycles.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Councilman McCormack said. “Sure, we need more police officers, but for far too long we’ve been treating the symptom and not the problem. To me, it’s going to take time. Some of those indicators like crime reduction, more of our youth achieving their goals in education or in employment, as well as wealth building in our neighborhoods, those are going to be the indicators in the long term that these early-on investments are working.”
If approved, the contract with Frontline Service will cover one year of the program with an option for an additional year. No date has been set yet for the panel to vote on this proposal.