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R3 grant recipients tell Illinois lawmakers about success, challenges

Several community groups spoke with Illinois state lawmakers Monday about the impact grants had...
Several community groups spoke with Illinois state lawmakers Monday about the impact grants had on their efforts to prevent violence and restore neighborhoods.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 5:48 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - A quarter of the revenue from adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois goes to grants helping communities hit hardest by violence and the War on Drugs. $45 million is now available for community organizations through the second round of grants from the Restore, Reinvest and Renew program.

The Pritzker administration awarded $35 million to 80 community groups during the first round of the R3 effort. Those groups used grants for trauma services, youth development and re-entry programs.

But some members of the House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force worry that violence continues to rise in communities across the state. Others feel the grant funding may not be enough to make significant changes.

Chicago West Side NAACP President Karl Brinson agreed that change can’t happen overnight.

“I know people are looking for anything, for microwave solutions,” Brinson said Monday. “Some are going to be instant and some are going to be rapid. But our condition has been so long and been so abetted. It’s going to take a while for you to see some real strong measurements that you want to see and that needs to be seen.”

Many of the organizations help people with legal services, workforce development and behavioral health services. Metropolitan Family Services is a non-profit that helps low-income and working poor families in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Program Director Meghan Kelly says her organization partners with other service providers to ensure people get the help they need.

“We’re not imagining that someone is going to come to us and not have multiple service needs,” Kelly said. “We really want to focus on self-determination with our clients and recognize that all has impact on not just individual violence prevention, but community violence prevention.”

While many of the grant recipients last year were from the Chicagoland area, several downstate organizations were grantees as well.

Prairie State Legal Services provides free legal assistance for low-income clients dealing with non-criminal court cases. Many of their clients need help during crises. Executive Director Mike O’Connor explained his organization received four grants to provide services in the suburbs, Rockford, Bloomington-Peoria region and the Quad Cities.

Like many other organizations, O’Connor said his group had trouble with in-person outreach efforts and hiring staff as COVID-19 spread across the state.

“We’re trying to do community lawyering, which obviously means getting out into the community‚” O’Connor said. “COVID has greatly complicated that. A lot more is happening virtually and we’re making sure that we’re figuring out the tools needed to make that happen.”

Pritzker recently announced organizations that received R3 grants last year will have them renewed for another year to keep services running through the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) would like the House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force to also talk with law enforcement to hear their ideas to address violence.

Windhorst asked Task Force Chair La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) to hold future hearings with police and members of victim advocacy groups to find more solutions. Ford agreed both should be part of the ongoing discussions to curb violence across Illinois.

Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) would also like to hear what community members think about the organizations that receive R3 grants. She said people should be able to tell lawmakers about the successes or problems they still face.

“I would like to hear from the people from the community,” Flowers asked. “How do they think these services impact them? And how would they suggest that it be done differently?”

Community organizations can find more information on how to apply for R3 grants by clicking here.

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