Interfaith group discusses what’s been accomplished so far for Jacksonville’s poor and youth

By November 11, 2013April 15th, 2014No Comments

November 5, 2013.  The Florida Times-Union.

Promises made, promises being kept. That’s what Jacksonville civic and religious leaders declared Tuesday night in discussions about a number of programs in the works to help the city’s at-risk population.

ICARE, the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment,  celebrated steps forward with initiatives related to homelessness, youth crime, education and job creation at its annual assembly Tuesday night, which attracted about 600 members. The interfaith coalition is made up of about 40 organizations, which represent about 30,000 Duval County residents.

“We’re very excited about the hard work that people have done,” said the Rev. Vincent Kolb, coalition co-president. “Those are significant problems that need to be addressed.”

The organization has several projects in the works: A job creation project for northwest Jacksonville, a downtown homeless center, civil boards to reduce youth crime and special projects in schools to bolster reading skills. The coalition also decided to add mental health as the next subject the organization will tackle.

One of the forward steps was that Mayor Alvin Brown had agreed to assist with a project to bring jobs to northwest Jacksonville, Kolb said.

The coalition plans to bring members of The Democracy Collaborative, a community development organization, to town to design a business that will employ residents in northwest Jacksonville and help the area grow.

“We’re really excited to hear what they’re going to do,” said Michelle Barth, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff. “The potential of this could really be something outstanding.”

The premise is a local business will be started in a low-income area of town, Barth said. The business will be bolstered by a large city organization, such as a hospital, which takes on a contract for services that the local business can fulfill.

She said the mayor plans to meet with The Democracy Collaborative in Jacksonville in December to discuss options.

The coalition is also working on creating more accountability boards within neighborhoods and schools to help first offenders of civil citations pay for their crimes without jail time, said the Rev. Georgia Gaston, an ICARE co-president. When someone commits a minor crime in a school, such as one student stealing from another, then the perpetrator will go before the board, who will decide the punishment.

Instead of going to jail, the perpetrator faces punishment doled out by the board. He also has to face his parents, the victim and the victim’s parents.

“They can see how their behavior has affected that community,” Gaston said.

So far, there are two neighborhood accountability boards, and there are boards at Southside Middle School and Englewood High School, Kolb said. He said the accountability boards have been credited with reducing suspensions at these schools.

Leaders also updated members about the Jacksonville Day Resource Center, a facility for homeless people downtown which officially opened in July, closed due to some air conditioning and insurance issues, and reopened Oct. 21.

The center’s resources includes case management officers, men’s showers and computer access. It is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“You may remember Mayor Brown’s promises that the day center would be his priority,” Kolb said. “On Oct. 21, despite running behind schedule, historic news happened. The doors are open.”