Three Years of Dedicated Work
By: Tim Jurney
November 28, 2016
As a VISTA with the Youth Violence Prevention (YVP) team for the Minneapolis Health Department (MHD), I get to do all sorts of things but my favorite piece of the puzzle is Next Step. Next Step is Minneapolis’ new hospital-based violence intervention program (HBVIP) for young people ages 12-28 who’ve been treated at the ER for a gun- or stab-wound. Usually, when someone is treated at a hospital for an injury, they are given medical care and then return to their community with follow-up health recommendations. The HBVIP model understands that this isn’t always enough; young people who’ve sustained violent injuries may come from a difficult situation, often experience trauma, and then go back to the same situation with little support and the added burden of trauma, with the expectation that they’ll be able to heal and avoid reinjury.
Now, at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), the largest Trauma 1 center in Minnesota, young people who’ve been violently injured are connected to one of our Next Step staff and offered a wide range of services and personalized, direct support as they build back their lives. The program is still in its infancy, having just begun in July 2016, but our two part-time staff have worked with 36 participants just in the first two months. We’re taking on a third staff member and developing documents, partnerships and evaluation procedures. Most importantly, Next Step staff are constantly, powerfully changing lives.
The services Next Step provides are as varied as the young people we serve, and our staff are deeply committed to addressing each participant’s individual realities, but there are a few consistent needs. We’ve seen that many people experience barriers to safe and stable housing, or require a major relocation to another neighborhood or city, in order to escape the cycles of violence surrounding them. Additionally, we are seeing many barriers to employment. Next Step staff can sometimes offer short-term financial support for families who need time to recover from the trauma of violence, and always help connect participants to existing resources in their communities already providing the services needed.
It’s rewarding, watching Next Step spring into action. What sets it apart from some of the other programming I work on, though, is how connected I am to the two VISTA members who came before me. Each member spent hundreds of hours laying the groundwork for Next Step’s current thriving existence.
Paul Rebman, the first-year VISTA at MHD (14’-15’), has since been hired full-time as a Research Assistant in the same office. We get lunch most weeks, comparing the projects we’re working on and discussing the confusions and excitements of our early twenties. Paul has supported me as I learn to be patient with the tangle of government bureaucracy, and often helps me brainstorm ways to improve the work I do as a VISTA. In return, I share regular updates about Next Step. Paul says it’s inspirational to see all the progress made since he first began doing literature reviews on best practices (Next Step is modeled after a number of programs from cities across the nation) and applied for start-up funding (which, eventually, we got).
“At times the pace of implementing Next Step was challenging,” he said. “There was a lot to be done: funding had to be secured, program design had to be completed, a partnership with the hospital had to be established, and systems had to be put in place to make the program run smoothly.”
But in the end, knowing his year of service was only the first of three “meant that I knew the work we did in the first year would not be lost.”
Josh Peterson, my supervisor, says Paul’s fear was not unfounded. Between 2008 and 2013 there were a number of efforts to start similar programming in Minneapolis, but nothing came of them. Most of those efforts were made by interns, or graduate students — people who could not stay long enough to make a project this big into reality. Josh started with MHD in 2013 and, with the help of the VISTA program, HCMC, and funding from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs, now has an expanding pilot program underway only 3 years later.
Ziz Raskin, the second VISTA (15’-16’), is in full agreement. She’s still in Minneapolis, working for pre- to post-natal care for young mothers, and like Paul immediately reached out to me once I started my year. Many cafés and restaurants later (the cheap ones though, because Ziz understands VISTA budgeting limitations), I asked her how she felt about being the middle VISTA. Ziz told me about a key meeting where she impressed a grant director with her extensive understanding of HBVIPs. Without Paul’s many hours of research and phone conversations to help Ziz and Josh craft their initial emails to this grant director, she doesn’t think they would have even agreed to meet in the first place. Paul’s broad research allowed Ziz and Josh to make very specific and informed decisions as they built Minneapolis’ version youth violence prevention programs, and helped them to convince other people that this was a program worth investment.
It’s not just the advice and support that makes my ongoing relationship with Paul and Ziz so meaningful. That sense of history is incredible. It propels me forward. I’m in awe of how many people had to work for years without visible progress, in the hope that something would eventually come of it. And I’m glad VISTA is so focused on sustainability and capacity building, because in the three-year span, things often actually do.