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Our mission:  To heal the psychological and emotional impact of homicides and reduce trauma-related reactive violence in the City of Chester, PA
Healing and Strength staff, from left to right: Alex Johnson, MA, ATR-BC, LPC; Shakyra Morales, LSW, MSW; Lashira Council, LPC; LaNoana Segree Odom, Art Therapy Aide; Nsima Umana, LSW, MSW; Monique Green, MSW; Erika Dawkins, PsyD, M.Ed., LFT, Lead Therapist
Chester Community Coalition (CCC) Update

It has been a busy, productive fall for us, with a lot to be grateful for!

Recruitment is up and attrition is down from last year.  The counselors we recruited over the summer are a great team, who have approached their work with enthusiasm and commitment.  They help the parents and kids through unspeakable grief and loss.  Shiloh Baptist Church continues to graciously accommodate our work, even as their program roster grows internally. And we are continuing to strengthen the service we provide, with an eye to quality, integrity and effectiveness.

We continue to offer art therapy to 4 to 7-year-olds this fall, thanks to a renewed outreach grant from Congregation Ohev Shalom.  Also, a grant from The Sisters of St. Francis now covers part of door-to-door Lyft rides (many families don’t have cars and public transportation with small children in the evenings is difficult-- particularly during winter). 
The support group for assault victims and their families was made possible by grants from Swarthmore Presbyterian Church and The Community’s Foundation (see below for an example of the impact the group is having on participants’ lives).
Two master-level social work students from Widener are providing case-management support –heating costs, for example, or a physical so a child can start school--to our clients. A social worker from Crozer-Chester Medical Center supervises them on a volunteer basis. 

Donations from wonderful individuals and congregations help cover rent, Lyft rides and supper for our families, printing flyers for outreach, clinical supervision (to address secondary trauma).  Social work professors from Widener are providing clinical supervision at greatly reduced cost.

I'm so thankful for Alexia's resourcefulness and tenacity and Sr. Jean's spirit and strength.  We're so very, very blessed.

Fran Stier

Good News about CCC

Click here to read about the Coalition in The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia's magazine.

From the support group for assault survivors

The young men who came to our survivor support groups did so with a great level of skepticism.  They were willing to try some food and see what we were all about.  Despite assessing our program director, who recruited them through street outreach, as “joe” (or overeager), they came into our rooms and kept coming back.  First visit was only for 15 minutes, then they left en masse.  We assumed that was all and we would never see them again.  To our surprise, they returned the following week.  8 friends.  They sat through the whole group session. 

That second session was mainly introductions, and they found ways to make light of the situation. Yet, they returned the next week, with more friends.  The therapist made it clear that they could find their own level of participation. There would be no judgement on their readiness to share, confront and heal their traumas.  What he did require is that they treat each speaker with respect, no matter how they chose to engage with the process—so the people laughing it off got the same respect as the people baring their souls.  This approach turned out to be very effective for the young men.  In discussing their fears for example, one young man would talk about a fear of spiders and the next would discuss his fear of dying before he could fully grow up. 

Restoring Hope survivor support therapist, Doug Ford, LSW, MSW

On one particularly powerful occasion, they discussed decision-making.The young men talked about varying topics, from employment and education to neighborhood safety and community development.  Then, a teen spoke of the pressure of being a parent, providing for his children, his limited work options as a young person, and the importance of surviving in order to be a parent and break cycles. 
Because of what he shared, other boys in the group revealed that they were also parents and discussed their feelings of stress and foreboding.  Doug took this as direction and focused on helping them to think practically about mentors, opportunities for work, long-term goals and avenues to reach them.  By the end of the 10-week session, two of the young men had found employment in franchises and two others were apprenticing with family members in landscaping and construction.  Lastly, one young man realized he was interested in nursing and reached out to the local community college to learn what he would need to join the program.  He graduated high school during the time he attended the groups.  We hope that he will make it through and reach his goal and will do all we can to support him.

Career development was not the objective of providing survivor support groups, yet that tapped into our real purpose—providing a sense of hope to young men who often have a fatalistic view of the future and little hope to survive.  In fact, the teen woman they brought once let me know this fall, that her boyfriend was murdered at the end of the summer.  The fear of death these young men have is real and based on a very present danger.  Hope is of the essence to facilitate healing.
Thomas Abt.  Bleeding Out:  The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence – and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets.  

Abt argues that, more than jobs, more than education “protecting the poor from violence is the most effective anti-poverty measure available today. ‘If you are not safe…nothing else matters’”.

He quotes an essay by Jill Leovy, crime reporter for the LA Times [1]:

The safe take safety for granted. They assume that they are safe because safety is a state of nature, and that violence is an aberration. They fail to realize that, historically, it’s the safe people who are the strange ones. The wealthy suburbs of, say, the San Fernando Valley, where “The Brady Bunch” was filmed, are relatively crime-free, not because they are normally functioning “communities” -- another loaded and unexamined term -- but because their inhabitants are the inheritors of centuries-long legal, bureaucratic and political processes that have manufactured high levels of personal safety. They don’t have to negotiate with killers. Their neighbors don’t coerce them. Their living rooms are not firebombed if they break ranks with the community. They are the beneficiaries of institutional progress that has shifted the burden of conflict resolution from individuals, families, clans or sects to a highly developed criminal justice system, rooted in democratic processes, controlled by an independent judiciary, and governed by the rule of law. They don’t know how lucky they are.
Abt focuses on urban violence – murders in particular (because they are more reliably reported to police than other crimes),  His focus doesn’t include sexual violence or domestic violence. 
He describes the toll that urban violence takes on children’s ability to learn in school, making it harder for them to concentrate and focus, causing them to fall behind academically, limiting their chances to move ahead as adults.
“While most murderers may be poor, the overwhelming majority of the poor are not murderers”.  Urban violence is concentrated in a few neighborhoods in a few cities and towns, in less than 1% of the population of those few cities and towns.  Within most gangs (or groups – less organized than gangs), relatively few, heavily traumatized young men are most likely to be involved in the behaviors that put them at most risk – carrying illegal firearms, hanging out with people involved in violence, and substance abuse – more likely to be alcohol than illegal drugs.
What anti-violence strategies have been shown to work?
Focused deterrence (aka Group Violence Reduction Strategy, GVRS) has the strongest and most consistent evidence. Law enforcement, key community members, and social service providers work together, examining past assaults and murders to identify the individuals responsible.  Those individuals are “called in” to a meeting in a church or community center, where community leaders – often mothers who have lost sons to gun violence – tell the individuals that the violence must stop.  Social service providers offer help.  And law enforcement makes clear the group will be held accountable if shootings continue.

Street outreach (aka Cure Violence) by interventionists who are known and respected by the groups they work with has worked in some neighborhoods in some cities (New York, LA) but not others (Pittsburgh).  Distrust between law enforcement and street outreach workers has sometimes been a problem.  Training, supervision, and a career path for street outreach personnel are crucial components.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), has consistently been shown to help hypervigilance--interpreting harmless social cues as hostile, and responding aggressively.  Hypervigilance is driven by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in turn driven by childhood trauma and toxic stress.  Trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (TF-CBT) is the most evidence-based treatment for PTSD in children and teens, but Abt claims there are few programs offering it to the young men most at risk to perpetrate violence.

(Abt dismisses Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Programs, whose clients are often the young men most at risk of reinjury, based on a single article published 2015.  Why he doesn't discuss more recent work [2] is puzzling).
What about other anti-violence strategies?
Stand-alone employment programs:  Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, used to say “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”  In practice, however, he found that jobs alone were not enough; the men he worked with needed help to heal from trauma in order to keep those jobs.
Improving murder clearance rates hasn’t been studied.  In theory, bringing murderers to justice would get them off the streets, preventing them from murdering again and lower retaliation rates.  Nationwide, 62% of US murders are solved, but there are clear racial disparities.  For example, Boston police made arrests in 90% of murders where the victim was white, but only 42% where the victim was black.  (For comparison, the solve rate for murders in Chester in 2018 was 22%).
Cleaning and greening by repairing abandoned buildings and turning vacant lots into parks and gardens has at best mixed evidence, but cost little to execute and maintain.
Reducing gun trafficking:  Roughly 85% of the guns used in urban violence are stolen, borrowed, or bought on the black market.  Universal background checks (which, e.g. in PA do not apply to private sales of long guns), reducing straw sales (where a person with a clean record buys a gun for a prohibited person), or requiring a license to purchase would all help slow the flow of illegal guns.
Gun buy-backs are popular because they provide photo-ops, but most of the guns collected are old, inoperable, and unlikely to be used.
The most vivid pages of Bleeding Out are about the people whose lives were changed forever.  Kim Odom’s 13-year-old son Steven was murdered in October 2007.  The suspected murderer was himself killed 10 days later.  The 16-year-old boy who provided the gun was arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced to 6-8 years in prison. 
In the years after her son’s death, Odom founded LIPSTICK (Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner City Killing), which helps women refuse to buy or store guns for the men in their lives.
10 years later, she encountered the mother of the man who allegedly killed her son. 

She’s crying, we’re crying.  “I’ve always wanted to talk to you”, I told her.  “I want you to know we don’t hold any ill feelings”.  She kept saying, “It hurts, it hurts”, and I said I know it does.  Then, as we’re talking, I’m realizing that just as we’re getting to come upon ten years without Steven, she’s coming upon 10 years too, because her son was murdered on October 14, ten days after Steve died.  I told her, “You know, this is complicated, but both of our sons’ lives matter”.  She hugged us, said, “Thank you”, and then left.
[1]  Jill Leovy.
[2]   National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs Policy White Paper:  Hospital-based Violence Intervention:  Practices and Policies to end the cycle of violence.
Making blue slime -- always a favorite

Support our work.

Participating families in our programs get door to door rides to and from counseling because public transit service is infrequent and many families are afraid to leave their own neighborhood, especially after dark.  We can order them Lyft rides on Lyft's business portal for about $10 a ride.

Counselors and volunteers share a simple supper with our families (usually pizza, salad and fruit juice)  because it's a little easier to do the hard work of therapy when everyone's eaten.  Costs about $5 a person.  (Families are eager to take home leftovers if there are any.)

Our staff and social workers and psychologists help families deal with unimaginable tragedy.  After therapy sessions, we can't just tell them to "
cry when you get home".  They need clinical supervision to address vicarious trauma.  We're so grateful that Widener professors supply the supervision at a reduced rate -- $40/hour.

Would you consider a monthly contribution of $5, or $10, or whatever amount is right for you?  Becoming a sustaining member means we can continue helping families build resilience in the face of trauma.

Donations by check can be made out to "CCC / UAC" and sent to

Urban Affairs Coalition, Attn. Lee Wall
1207 Chestnut St, 7th floor.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Or, use the donation button below, and consider clicking the "Make a Monthly Donation" box.
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