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South Bend’s 2022 Alive grants gave 10 nonprofits $25K. Here’s what each is doing with the money.

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Jennifer Weingart
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WVPE Public Radio

In February, South Bend announced its second round of Alive grant recipients. The program funds community initiatives that focus on youth engagement, with the goal of reducing gun violence.

In the program’s first year, 50 organizations received Alive grants. Awardees included outreach ministries, sports programs and restorative justice initiatives. But in 2022, only 10 organizations were selected with each receiving $25,000.

The city’s office of community initiatives is responsible for overseeing the program. It holds training sessions, provides professional development for grant recipients and attends events held by recipient organizations.

Over the past month, WVPE reached out to all 10 organizations for interviews on what each is doing with its grant. The responses are outlined below:

Big Brothers Big Sisters — Southern Lake Michigan Region

Big Brothers Big Sisters received $7,000 through the last round of Alive grants, which the organization used to expand its Bigs with Badges program.

Regional Vice President of Marketing and Development

Elizabeth Leachman said the program matches public safety officers with Big Brothers Big Sisters mentees.

“It was really meant to bridge the gap between young people and those public resource officers,” Leachman said. “Because there is — especially in today’s day and age, with everything going on — a gap between how young people feel about officers and the community.”

Leachman said the organization plans to continue expanding Bigs with Badges with this year’s grant.

She said the extra $18,000 will help them dedicate more staff time and programming resources to the program, with the goal of helping kids learn “that there are other avenues to pursue when you have big feelings.”

“It doesn’t have to be violence,” Leachman said. “You can, you know, go to the music studio at the Charles Black Center and pound away on the drums, or you can go play basketball. Just knowing that there’s someone there for these kids to help support them through what is probably a really difficult time in these kids’ life.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters — Southern Lake Michigan Region is a financial supporter of WVPE.

Emaculate Enterprise

WVPE reached out to Emaculate Enterprise’s CEO but was not able to set up an interview in time for publication. But according to information provided by the city, Emaculate is “a business that specializes in songwriting, jingle producing, and entertainment” with the goal of “empowering, educating, and entertaining at-risk youth and fatherless children.”

It says the grant money will fund a program to “help youth who have an interest in being a musical artist learn the necessary skills for effective song writing, marketing a song, and turning it into passive income.”

According to information on Emaculate’s website, participants will also perform at a hybrid virtual and live concert, film a music video, and speak out against gun violence in commercials.

The website says the organization will hold weekly meetings from February to June with speakers from the community to provide mentorship opportunities. It says the program will culminate in a showcase in July where participants can demonstrate their skills.

This is the second year Emaculate Enterprise has received an Alive grant.

Five Star Life

Five Star Life president and executive director Seth Maust used to be a high school basketball coach. But he wanted to decrease school dropout rates, and co-founded the organization with that goal 17 years ago.

The organization’s programming focuses on developing an “operating system” or “mindset” for at-risk youth — Maust said kids in need tend to have very little family support, are underperforming in school and not involved in extracurricular activities.

“Our whole vision is we want to change culture,” Maust said. “We want to change culture by changing student mindsets and creating a healthy environment.”

Originally, the organization developed an in-person curriculum used by Elkhart Community Schools, but expanded to other school districts five years ago through a video curriculum facilitated by teachers.

The organization also trains area youth workers, such as at the Boys and Girls Club of St. Joseph County or the county parks department, on how to connect and engage with kids.

And it has a 350-acre camp in Summit, Michigan where kids can participate in experiential learning, build relationships and work with mentors.

In addition to Five Star Life’s programming, hands-on activities at the camp include various sports, metalworking, archery, science classes, taking care of horses, and a birds of prey program.

“As many things as possible that kids can tap into using their minds, their hands to create something or learn something,” Maust said.

Five Star Life was in talks with the Juvenile Justice Center of St. Joseph County and the South Bend Police Department to develop a program for kids in the system.

Maust said receiving the $25,000 Alive grant allowed the organization to get that program started earlier than planned. In it, Five Star Life will be targeting kids aged 11 to 15 with minor offenses, such as truancy, tardiness or running away from home.

“They’re not big enough issues to get in the system yet, but they’re headed that way,” Maust said. “This is red flag city — let’s not wait until they’re incarcerated, until they do a serious crime, let’s catch them when they’re small.”

Those kids, Maust said, will go through Five Star Life’s curriculum, including programming at the Michigan camp. The organization is also working with the Juvenile Justice Center to bring curriculum to kids who are incarcerated or on probation.

That, Maust said, will steer kids away from the wrong path.

“The gun is the issue, but it’s the person that pulls the trigger that we want to focus on,” he said.

This is the first year Five Star Life received a grant.

Gamma Phi Delta Sorority Inc. – Epsilon Delta Chapter

Gamma Phi Delta is a historically Black sorority founded in 1943 at the Lewis College of Business in Detroit.

In response to an interview request, the organization’s Epsilon Delta Chapter told WVPE via a Facebook message to contact the city of South Bend for any information.

According to information provided by the city, Epsilon Delta Chapter’s Alive grant will fund the “Phi Teens Youth Auxiliary,” an organized group of youth and adults sponsored by the National Organization of Gamma Phi Delta Sorority.

Phi Teens Youth Auxiliary aims “to develop the next generation of young African American leaders by hosting conferences, workshops, panels, and seminars with dialect that empowers participants to learn, lead, innovate, and serve.”

In addition, the provided information states “The Stories to Young Black Girls as well as Narratives to Young Black Boys initiatives provide the tools necessary to reaffirm self-esteem, mental health, physical health, positive identity formation, and self-worth while liberating, mentoring, teaching, coaching, and rallying teens and young adults through fine arts, STEM, cultural edification, community involvement, life skills training, violence reduction and leadership development.”

This is the first year the Epsilon Delta Chapter received a grant.

Imani Unidad

Social justice organization Imani Unidad received a $10,000 Alive grant last year to hold restorative justice workshops with the other grant recipients.

Restorative justice is a broad term, but executive director Debra Stanely said the main idea is to shift the focus of the criminal justice system from retribution to healing — for both the person who was harmed and the person who inflicted the harm.

“When we think about violence — for me to perpetrate that kind of harm, somewhere along the line, I have been harmed,” she said. “If we want to deter the harm, then we have to do a whole lot of healing.”

Stanley said the extra $15,000 from this year’s grant will allow the organization to spend more time on the workshops and invest in additional training materials.

Last year’s workshops were meant to educate grant recipients on the basics of restorative justice, but this year, Stanley said they’ll focus more on how leaders can incorporate those practices into their organization’s work.

“Sometimes, people will say, ‘We want you to come in and do this with the participants,’” she said. “Well, OK, back up a minute. If we don’t have buy-in from the entire structure, how do you believe that this will work?”

Stanley said restorative justice practices will ultimately help break the cycle of violence in communities by helping community members realize that one person’s harm affects them all.

“Violence is misdirected, misguided hurt and anger,” she said. “So if we can get you to acknowledge that today and get help and support for that, it lessens the chance of you misdirecting it to some innocent somebody — and in the process, doing more harm to yourself.”

Indiana Parenting Institute of St. Joseph County

The Indiana Parenting Institute of St. Joseph County is a family and youth organization that specializes in out-of-school learning, executive director Leslie Wesley said.

Wesley, who also serves on the South Bend Community School Corporation board, said the organization works with South Bend youth from high school to age 24. It provides tutoring, credit recovery, financial literacy education, remedial learning and college and career readiness through the Pathways to Success program.

Wesley said the organization is present at all South Bend Community School Corporation high schools, and the Alive grant will be used to support IPI-SJC’s Soar 7 college visit program.

The program includes up to 300 students from either the South Bend Community School Corporation or students transitioning back into school that have been referred by outside agencies.

“It makes a world of a difference when you’re able to take students out of South Bend, and they get an opportunity to really look and see that there’s a world outside of South Bend,” Wesley said. “Getting them on a college campus, or getting them into a manufacturing organization where they’re manufacturing — they could become CEOs.”

Wesley said the grant will fund program materials and supplies, a graduation ceremony in December, bus trips to various colleges and the hiring of a part-time data management coordinator.

The next visit will be a trip to Ball State University, but Soar 7 is also planning a trip to the Chicago Black College Expo in April as well as visits to several HBCUs.

This is the first year that IPI-SJC received a grant.

Take Heart (Take Ten Program)

The University of Notre Dame’s Robinson Community Learning Center has been running the Take Ten Program — which focuses on restorative justice conflict resolution education for kids, parents and adults — for almost 22 years.

But Take Heart is much newer. Director Ellen Williams said it’s an offshoot of the Take Ten Program that was created because the existing conflict resolution education “did not work very well with kids who are at risk, kids who are involved in the school disciplinary system, or who had been arrested and involved with the juvenile incarceration system.”

“We wanted to do something different and something more effective to reach those kids,” she said.

Program co-founder Michael Williams said mass incarceration has left many homes without male role models, which leads to misguided youth.

In response, Take Heart trains formerly incarcerated men as mentors “to the most at-risk youth in our community.”

“The mentors are able to relate directly to those who are one step into the justice system, and they’re received better because they’re getting it from someone who’s experienced — who was once them,” he said. “I never want to see another youth have to go through the path I went through — that's the reason I do it.”

Ellen Williams said Take Heart has some formerly incarcerated women who have gone through the training process. But so far, all of the kids in the program have been young men.

Currently, the program works in partnership with Right of Passage’s Woodford Home, a residential facility for people aged 15 to 22 that are in the foster care system and come out of incarceration, but whose foster parents won’t take them back.

Take Heart visits the home and holds restorative justice circles, and mentors also have one-on-one relationships with the kids.

“I’m the middle-aged white lady who they may not listen to, who they may not pay attention to,” Ellen Williams said. “But when the mentors start to talk, these guys put their phones down, their attention is rapt. They listen, and they ask real pertinent questions.”

Ellen Williams said Take Heart is currently in talks to launch two more program sites, but that means it needs to expand its training and the number of mentors.

The $25,000 Alive grant will be used to fund that expansion and pay for program costs, materials and provide incentives to the mentors.

“We are blessed that our mentors have been volunteering, but there’s a lot of research out there that talks about how you should try to provide some compensation for people,” Ellen Williams said.

This is the first year Take Heart received a grant, but Williams provided conflict resolution training to last year’s Alive grant recipients.

“The number of recipients was bigger and the pots of money were smaller,” she said. “It was nice for us to be able to shift to receive some of the grant money.”

Transformation Ministries – Greater Impact

Transformation Ministries Director of Operations Dan Weiss declined an interview request on behalf of the organization. But according to information provided by the city, Greater Impact is a two-time grant recipient that “seeks to mentor the youth (15-25 year olds) of South Bend through meaningful work.”

It says the program “works to address the needs in our community for high-risk youth to have quality job opportunities in which they can be mentored while learning valuable skills.”

Transformation Ministries – Iron Sharpens Iron

As with Greater Impact, Transformation declined an interview about its Iron Sharpens Iron program. But according to information provided by the city, Iron Sharpens Iron is a youth mentorship program that aims to “serve the community and families of South Bend through a focus on the needs of its students.”

It says the program provides “one-on-one mentoring, small group discussions, family-style meals, social-emotional support, academic tutoring, in-school advocacy, post-secondary education planning, exposure trips, family support, employment opportunities, and life skills training for each student in our program.”

This is the second year Iron Sharpens Iron has received an Alive grant.

UB League

UB League is a free, year-round men’s basketball league with three aims — accountability, inclusivity and mentorship.

Founder Laurence Okereke said he tries to keep a balance of older and younger players between ages 14 and 40 to achieve that mentorship goal.

“To me, the gun violence stems from lack of self control,” he said. “A lot of these kids are out here, they’re frustrated, they don’t have anyone to guide them. And they don’t have a system that can help them, that they can rely on.”

Okereke started playing basketball after he moved to South Bend from Jamaica as a young man. A neighbor taught him to play one-on-one and eventually introduced him to a group of older players.

“It just gave me something to hang onto,” he said. “I didn’t have a dad, so they almost were surrogate dads to me. And I wanted all the young people in my community — I wanted them to have that experience.”

The league collects 10 statistics on each player’s performance — things like points, rebounds, steals and shot changes. They also post videos of every game online, allowing players to hold both themselves and each other accountable.

“I want these young men to look at their lives that way — “Am I being a good dad? Am I being a good son? Am I being a good citizen?” Okereke said. “I want them to ask themselves these questions just like they ask themselves questions about, ‘Am I a good basketball player?’”

UB League received an Alive grant last year, but Okereke said the league has doubled in size since then. He wants to use this year’s grant funding for a charity fundraiser tournament.

Each week, the league’s top four teams would play a double-header tournament. The games would be livestreamed, so community members could call in with a dollar pledge for each point their team earns. The league would then donate the teams “earnings” to the charity of their choice.

Okereke said his biggest goal is “to see these young men be able to give back.”

“For them to be able to walk around the community and have people be able to point at them and say, ‘Oh, man, that’s so-and-so, he plays for the Golden Dragons! They raised $25,000 for the food bank last year,’” Okereke said. “I can just imagine that kind of positive feedback coming to people in our community who have traditionally been derided.”

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter @gemma_dicarlo. Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.
Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.