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KU group works with organizations to make a difference in the community

Unit offers resources, assistance for local, international efforts

Like virtually all social agencies, Aim4Peace was facing a dilemma. The program saw real results in supporting efforts to reduce homicides and assaults in some of Kansas City’s most dangerous neighborhoods. However, the city budget was short, and the program had to fight to keep its funding.

Aim4Peace is a program dedicated to supporting violence prevention by promoting community change and development. Jeffrey Colvin, a doctor at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and a former member of the task force, was looking for someone to help review its effectiveness. That’s when he found the Work Group for Community Health and Development, a research group affiliated with the Life Span Institute and the Department of Applied Behavioral Science, directed by Stephen Fawcett and Jerry Schultz, professors of behavioral psychology.

“He was looking for a community-based approach to development and change programs and came across the Community Tool Box,” said Jomella Watson-Thompson, research associate with the Work Group and a member of the evaluation team that worked with Aim4Peace. Colvin served on the evaluation team for the Aim4Peace initiative with Watson-Thompson and graduate research assistants Teresa Dailey and Daniel Shober.

The Community Tool Box is a free online resource supported by the work group, which aims to improve community and public health, youth health and development and community and capacity development. The toolbox contains more than 7,000 pages of resources devoted to community development projects aimed at affecting change. It offers customizable support for organizations through a service called the Work Station. The Work Station assists organizations through functions such as tracking tasks and progress, communicating in real-time with multiple group members, sharing tips and tools for community change and improvement, advising group members and providing evaluation of organizational progress through the Online Documentation and Support System, a related feature and service.

Since its inception, the Community Toolbox has been used by developers in more than 15 countries around the world. It includes resources in Spanish, and will soon include Arabic translations as well.

“I am facilitating the creation of safer communities for women, children and other vulnerable people in our rural communities,” said Kathleen O’Malley, a project facilitator in Christina Lake, Canada. “We have just completed the development of an action plan using data collected through community consultations…developed by 50 people representing all sectors of the community. We are now seeking funding for its implementation. I think this is one of the most useful sites that I have found on the Internet.”

While the online component has helped share resources with community-minded groups around the world, the Work Group has collaborated extensively with local and regional groups as well through collaborative research, teaching and public service. Currently, the group is co-supporting the evaluation of the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive grant awarded to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services to partner with 14 community-based coalitions throughout the state. The groups are working together to identify at-risk individuals and reduce alcohol use among minors. The workgroup is also partnering with organizations in Kansas City, Mo.’s Ivanhoe neighborhood to improve substandard housing and reduce crime rates.

The work group assists a variety of community-based initiatives and provides access to resources and helps bring coalitions together and communicate and support their mission. In the case of Aim4Peace, the group provided curricular support, performing a review of the organization’s work and offering recommendations on how it can improve its services. The work group evaluated the program’s efforts throughout 2008. Based largely on a program called Operation Cease Fire in Chicago, the program instituted 43 policy, practice and program changes, the group found. A 2005 study showed the leading cause of homicides and assaults in Kansas City resulted from personal conflicts and disputes. Among the steps it took to reduce violence, Aim4Peace workers negotiated a cease-fire between two rival gangs and started a “hater free movement.” The movement worked with high school-age students to identify individuals at risk of violent behavior and present them with safe alternative behaviors. The group also worked with individuals to help them find jobs and educational opportunities. They also worked directly with neighborhood groups to reduce tolerance of violent acts and encourage residents to take action.

The evaluation team prepared a report showing the program had measurable success in its goals, which was presented to the Kansas City city council and in the community. The program did receive a reduction in city funding, but the city provided temporary transitional financing.

Watson-Thompson said Aim4Peace is just one example of programs the work group has been associated with that has affected change in its community.

“It’s wonderful to be engaged and on the ground, and to be able to work with your community partners and see the differences they are making,” she said.

More information about the work group is online at www.communityhealth.ku.edu. The Community Toolbox is online at http://ctb.ku.edu.

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