“Bridging the Gap Between Community & Law Enforcement,” The Life Skills Program

The Rockford Housing Authority has been honored with this year’s Award of Merit and is
Nominated for the National NAHRO Award of Excellence for the Life Skills Piloted Program.


The National Association Of Housing And Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO)

Award of Merit

The NAHRO Award of Merit is a showcase for Public Housing Authorities to demonstrate their ingenuity and grit and the industry’s best practices for the communities they serve.

Award of Excellence

Nominated from among the Award of Merit winners each year, the Award of Excellence are chosen by national juries and presented at the annual National Conference and Exhibition. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.

About NAHRO

The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) is a professional membership organization comprised of approximately 20,000 housing and community development agencies and officials throughout the United States who administer a variety of affordable housing and community development programs at the local level. These awards provide additional opportunities to inform the public of the best in housing and community development in the country.

About The Program “The Life Skills Camp”

A Familiar Face

This camp is a life and social skills program for disengaged young people who are at risk in the community. The programming of the Life Skills camp addresses fundamental life skills that many teens and preteens are lacking in our community today. The teaching method provides the ideological basis for the programming and places a heavy emphasis on confidence, attitude and motivation. The Life Skills Camps sets attendees on a guided path for success as well as building a new mindfulness of law enforcement officers. The Life Skills Program also gives the children a chance to see ‘that familiar face, that this is a person who works in our community caring about kids and families.’

Targeted Goals

The week-long camp is targeted as an all-encompassing goal to bridge the gap between community and law enforcement. The innovative approach to camp programming is a tool to build trust between the two. A damaged police-community relation makes it more difficult for police to execute their most critical responsibility: to respond to crime and protect public safety. This program also gives our officers real-life experiences with our kids. They too, can recognize situations, issues, and concerns from a resident perspective.

Policing In America

Policing in America is facing a crisis of legitimacy and purpose and the Rockford community is no exception. The Rockford Housing Authority in conjunction with the Rockford Police Department is rededicating policing as a public service initiative based in trust between law enforcement and that the diverse communities’ officers serve and protect.

In practice, community policing involved forming a partnership with the Rockford Housing Authority, prioritizing transparency, actively pursuing feedback and establishing the Life Skills Program that allows the Officers to engage with our young residents outside of the law enforcement arena.

Building Everlasting Relationships Through The Life Skills Program

The officers have built everlasting relationships with these children, which in turn, created a level of trust that will help move the community forward in better understanding of law and housing over time. While the Life Skills Camp is broader and more encompassing, below is a highlight Word Cloud of the programming based on measurable topics.

 

A Microcosm Of The Whole Community

While we traditionally think of a community as the people in a given geographical location, the word can really refer to any group sharing something in common and our youth is a small-scale version or microcosm of the whole community. They are a smaller group within a neighborhood, an affordable housing development, a community within a larger, geographically defined community. By taking the time and energy to understand the community well before embarking on a community effort such as this program, the outcome has payed-off in the long term.

 

Based In Trust

Policing as a public service based in trust between law enforcement and carrying out an intervention or building a coalition, will far more likely be successful since they are informed by the culture of the community and an understanding of the relationships among individuals and groups within it.

The Rockford Housing Authority is of the belief that the collective identity of the police cannot be based on defensiveness and isolation from the public, it has to be based on pride at providing admirable public service to protect and enable our residents of all ages. The Life Skills Camps attendees are a gateway for that belief to manifest, to be better understood and provide a pathway of new relationships.

 

The Role Of The Rockford Housing Authority

Connecting Children To Opportunities

One of the important enduring strategic roles that the Rockford Housing Authority is vested in our community, is ‘to connect children to opportunities’ that they may never experience without intervention. We, as an organization, are tasked to help create a different outlook on life for our kids, which is integrated into our overall mission that enhances the lives of residents and clients. RHA plays a significant role in developing, implementing and financing the program. The agency allowed through the strategic and financial plan, for staff to participate in the Life Skills Camp. Through the staff’s continued dedication, for example they transported the children back and forth daily from the RHA sites to the police station gym. The lead staff spent preplanning and missionary time at the RHA sites talking with parents promoting the pilot program.

The Rockford Housing Authority’s lead partner in the program is the Rockford Police Department, however there are several community stakeholders that assisted, which included the Fatherhood Encouragement Project, Food for Fuel, Rockford Police Department’s Chaplains Division, Kathleen Shaw, and Fathers Against Violence. Like many of the other RHA programming, the Life Skills Pilot Camp helps promote intergovernmental collaboration, cooperation and coordination of RHA Resident services in the Rockford community.

The NAHRO Award of Merit and the nomination for the National Award of Excellence was based on the pilot program to connect police officers and kids, some kids who were having behavioral issues are now moving forward in a positive manner.

The goal was also to help officers increase their effectiveness when interacting with children and teens. The program raised officers’ awareness of the tremendous impact their presence has on children and showed how basic knowledge of children’s development can enhance an officer’s impact, safety and ability to achieve the department’s law enforcement goals.

Encounters with police can make a profound impact on children. Children are almost always present when police officers perform their duties. Obstacles to overcome were to get kids to trust and communicate with officers; since the camp their relationship is so much better. This program will help build less adversarial and more collaborative relationships among police officers and children and families. Kids can now reach out to officers and not be labeled as a “snitch”, we are creating a different environment for our kids to live in. Today, the children are not getting suspended at school and have reduced school office visits.

The camp served between 15-25 children daily. The program team refused to turn any kids away from the program, they feel that “it’s better to have them in the building than outside the building.” The camp has also saved the community money, less kids in juvenile, less kids suspended, less kids damaging properties, the less the state of Illinois must pay which saves our city and RHA money to be allocated for other programs that are preventative in nature.

Parents of the children stated that “they are no longer getting suspended”, to date there has been only one incident is in which a participant received a demerit for being late to class.  Currently, there is conversation to implement a long-term tracking system aligned with the Rockford School District as of this writing.

Positive Reinforcement

This was a program created and designed by the Rockford Housing Authority and Rockford Police Department to help reduce our juvenile delinquency numbers, but also to help officers understand the complexity of youths who live in lower-income housing. This camp gave them a direct connection to a child that they would never ever have relationship with unless he or she was going through our criminal justice system. This is a program that allow officers to help curb negative behavior, and an opportunity to adopt kids on certain holidays for gifts, family fellowship and camaraderie.

Positive Self-Talk

Early childhood risk factors include impulsive behavior, poor emotional control, and a lack of social and problem-solving skills. Many of these risk factors are the result of experiencing chronic stress. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control approximately fourteen young people die from homicide each day.

Like us, kids have a set of messages that play over and over in their minds. This internal dialogue, or personal commentary, frames their reactions to life and its circumstances. One of the ways to recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, is to intentionally help fill their thoughts with positive self-talk. Too often, the pattern of self-talk children has developed is negative. There is a tendency to remember the negative things we were told as children by our parents, siblings, or teachers. We remember the negative reactions from other children that diminished how we felt about ourselves. Throughout the years, these messages have played over and over in our minds, fueling our feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and hopelessness. The Life Skills Camp program is designed and targeted to break the cycle with positive reinforcements.

Good behaviors often go unnoticed in kids. The program team reinforces it with a positive consequence and encourages the children to keep up the good work. The kids continually receive positive reinforcements for their skillful work in the program and are motivated to keep working hard. It is critically important to reward the behavior that is wanted and to see it demonstrated more often.

These positive needed reinforcements are not necessarily a tangible item. Instead, the leadership program team positively reinforces the child’s behavior by giving high fives, offering praise, giving hugs or a pat on the back, giving a thumbs-up, clapping and cheering, telling another adult present how proud we are of the child’s behavior while other children are listening as well.

The Future Of Life Skills Camp Program

Rockford Housing Authority and Rockford Police Department are looking forward to creating a summer program under this same format. We are planning on growing and servicing all family sites. Both organizations believe that with additional financial support, this program will grow exponentially.

With the pilot program in place, both organizations are assured of a program plan that has a strong foundation and can survive multiple changes as the program develops. The program is strongly associated with both organization’s overall mission. That is, the organization’s executive leaders are working from the mission to identify several overall major goals that will be achieved and that, in total, reach the mission.

The Life Skills program is part of the Rockford Housing Authority’s Five-Year Plan and the program is appropriate for both organizations to reach their respective objectives. This continued planning effort is required for both organizations plans to pursue investment/funding for the pilot program to grow.

Creatively Addressing A Challenge For Youth In Poverty

The unique solution which the staff of the Rockford Housing Authority developed to face this community challenge, is through a creative problem solving structured approach, it gives the RHA Staff and Police Officers the flexibility to use it in innumerable ways for different kinds of situations that come up in the camp. Identifying the goals or challenges and defining the desired outcome is the foundation to the program approach. Gathering important information on the problem of policing in America and the related data is crucial to understanding the problem of kids in our community.

The Rockford Housing Authority created this pilot program to change the mentality of our citizen’s, one small step at a time and to help them keep their neighborhoods safe. Like all communities, we are one people – what affects one, truly affects us all.  We must solve our problems together, so this program is a first step forward in decreasing crime and building long lasting relationships in our city. Life Skills and relationship building are critical to any child’s future as well as the community in which he or she resides.

Columbia University, The National Center for Children in Poverty
Important research from Columbia University, The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) states that poverty is the single greatest threat to our children’s well-being. “Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are the greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty.”