Members of the Young Urban Authors program meet twice a week in a small storefront near 23rd and Jackson in Seattle. The program is one of many funded by Seattle’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. In this program, the teenagers spend months writing and editing their own books — fiction or non-fiction — which are then printed in paperback form.
One of the young authors is 14-year-old Alrick Hollingsworth. He’s a dancer, rapper and football player. He’s writing a memoir with a heartbreaking title, “Stuck in this World Alone” “ — because it was based on how my grandma passed, and how the family split up after she passed,” he said.
On this day he’s browsing through cover art and planning the final details of his own published work. As part of the initiative Hollingsworth also has a mentor and receives a stipend for completing parts of the program.
He says the program prevents violence, just by keeping the kids so busy. “If you look at the timeframe that they have us in here, it’s a lot of time that we have off the streets instead of being in the streets.”
Kerry-Ann Blackwood’s job is to match kids in Seattle’s central area up with programs that fit their interests. She says the signs that the programs are bringing about a change in kids’ lives are subtle. For example, the kids will start to stop by the office more often, just to say hello.
“It’s slight changes that make the huge difference. When they start to buy into exactly what it is we’re here for, you get more information, and with more information you’re able to help more,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood says the issue of youth violence has decreased in the central area. But it’s still a problem. Now the question for city officials will be what role the initiative has played in reducing that anxiety.
In 2008, five teenagers were shot to death in Seattle. Mayor Greg Nickels proposed the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative the next year. Since then, the city has been spending more than $3 million a year to provide mentors, case management and programs for more than 1,000 kids. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn requested an additional $1.8 million this year to expand the program.
“We know that there are at-risk youth who have been on the waiting list who we’ve not been able to serve because of funding limitations,” McGinn said. “We never cut the program but in bad times we weren’t able to expand it. And now we want to expand it to include 400 more at-risk youth.”
Seattle City Council members approved that expansion, but on one condition: the city must spend $360,000 on an audit. Tim Burgess chairs the City Council’s budget committee. “In 2008, I was the lead advocate with Mayor Nickels for this program. I helped move the legislation through the council that established the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and I have been, and I remain, a strong supporter of it,” Burgess said. “We’ve been frustrated, however, that we’ve not been able to get the evaluation completed.”
Burgess said results for the initiative seem mixed so far. He expects the audit goals to be in place early next year. Burgess said one program that is clearly supported by data is the Nurse Family Partnership, which allows first-time mothers living in poverty to get home visits from public health nurses. The council has approved increased funding for that program. Burgess says it’s the first time since he was elected to the council that they’ve been able to contemplate new spending.
Mayor McGinn says he’s proud that Seattle is on track to rebuild its Rainy Day Fund after some lean years. He says the fund will be back to pre-recession levels by the end of 2014. Meanwhile, the Young Urban Authors will also be learning about money: they’ll be reading from their work and offering their new books for sale at a celebration on December 20.