Last Thursday at City Hall, 22 youth and grass-roots organizations celebrated their accomplishments and presented the highlights of their projects for the 2008 Rainier Beach and Central District Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.
"We've empowered them to provide the programs they see as necessary to the community," said Andre McKinney-Asim, project manager for the Neighborhood Matching Fund.
The Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative was funded by the City of Seattle's Neighborhood Matching Fund, a program is in its second year. Each of the 22 groups worked in their own way to provide a service to the area's youth.
"It's a unique concept which combines funding with sweat equity," said McKinney-Asim. "The program was extremely successful and has engaged people in a very profound way."
The Neighborhood Matching Fund provides funding to community organizations and projects. For 2008, it has spent $3.2 million funding over 3,200 projects in Seattle.
It is a grant program which provides money to assist community groups with projects that enhance their neighborhood. The project was created as "a response to calls from neighborhood leaders to assist them with neighborhood self-help projects."
McKinney-Asim said that while this is the second year of the Neighborhood Matching Fund, it is "the first year it has looked like this," as last year the fund was run on a pilot basis.
"We're in hopes of continuing the program, but are in the process of waiting to hear from the city," said McKinney-Asim.
At City Hall, each group shared their projects, all of which had a variety of missions and aims. Some incorporated activities such chess, hip-hop, or sports in youth-oriented activities. Others focused on specific issues or population groups such as the East African Community Services. Some choose to tackle specific issues such as environmental problems or youth violence prevention.
"It was an open house format which highlighted the youth involvement and the organizations," said McKinney-Asim.
One of the programs, 206 Hiphopumentary, was a film project training youth in multimedia equipment, computers and film production. The goal of the project is to create a film about the legacy of Hip-Hop culture in Seattle and its surrounding areas.
"I had a bad attitude," said Sa Vonte Wilford, who worked on the Hiphopumentary. "Now I'm calm, laid back, meeting and greeting people."
206 Hiphopumentary, according to him, helped to develop his social skills and connect with the surrounding community.
The Got Green! Project was a youth-oriented program that hoped to introduce issues of climate change and global warming to our youth and their respective communities. They went around their neighborhoods and collaborated with others to knock on over 1,500 doors informing people about alternative energy resources.
"The project was a good experience," said Tammy Nguyen. "We let people know we were around, we care."
She added that, before working on Got Green!, she had not focused on environmental concerns. Like a lot of people her age, she did not pay attention to major national or international issues.
"People are into their own home, families," said Nguyen. "They're not aware of the dangers the world faces and they don't care."
Thursday's celebration also came at a time of increased youth violence in Seattle. On Oct. 31, a shooting at Garfield High School claimed the life of one teenager while wounding another.
"We've had five teenagers die this year," said Mayor Greg Nickels. "We need to stop. Your experiences offer hope, like green jobs or the chance to turn lives around."
Nickels spoke on Thursday to both congratulate the groups and talk about his own office's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. It will provide over $9 million to focus on at-risk youth and models itself after similar programs in Chicago, Baltimore and San Jose. McKinney-Asim said that he hopes to continue the efforts with funding from the Mayor's program.
In addition to sharing highlights, the evening also provided time for each group and project member to meet one another.
"This was also a networking event which formed a cohesive, collective unit," said McKinney-Asim.
Members of each program as well as city officials were able to talk about their vision of youth and community. Guest Speaker Wyking Garrett talked about the need for youth involvement and how that connected to the success of our society in general.
"We need to tap into the greatest underutilized resource, ourselves," said Garrett. "The real wealth of any nation is its young people."