CHI Health St. Francis - Gang Violence Prevention
Grand Island, NE
In 2011, the Chief of Police met with CHI Health St. Francis officials to find an intervention into the cycle of at-risk youth being recruited into Grand Island gangs. Though gangs always have posed a threat in the community, 2011 became a particularly violent year, including a couple of gang-related murders. That same year, as the Grand Island police put away several influential gang leaders, St. Francis put together a Violence Prevention Coalition that identified possible evidence-based programs to increase youth resistance to joining gangs.
The community selected SANKOFA, a program developed by the New Jersey University of Behavioral Health in cooperation with Princeton University. The program includes interactive discussions, video clips, modeling, behavioral rehearsal, talking circles, experiential exercises and games, and peer-directed learning to develop situational awareness, connectedness, improved conduct, commitment, and skill sets to cope with peer pressure. SANKOFA is based in African-American culture but has provided good results in any culture. "Sankofa" is an Akan symbol currently used in the West African nations of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which means looking to the past to create the future. Literally translated, it means "Go back and retrieve."
In partnership with Grand Island Public Schools, the Grand Island Police, the Hall County Probation office and others, St. Francis obtained a Mission and Ministry grant to provide an after-school program at all three Middle School sites, 12-week sessions in fall and spring. In 2013, a group of Grand Island educators, also paid facilitators, updated and adapted some of the materials in the class for Latino youths. To date, 264 students have enrolled in SANKOFA, and 76 percent have completed the course. In 2013, the program introduced Beyond SANKOFA, a six-week refresher course, for students in their freshman year at high school.
The most significant change in Grand Island is the report that juvenile arrests in Hall County dropped from 857 arrests per 1,000 people in 2011 to 543 in 2013. Of the 201 students that have completed SANKOFA, 91.5 percent reported improved coping skills, 89.6 percent improved attendance, 95.5 percent maintained at least a C average, and 86.1 percent avoided trouble with both the school and law enforcement officials. In the Beyond SANKOFA program (high school students only), 94.3 percent reported improved skills, 81.1 percent improved attendance, 73 percent maintained at least a C average, 95 percent remained in school, and 78.4 percent stayed out of trouble with school and law enforcement officials.
Program leaders have had to learn that they cannot save every youth. They work with youths in group settings and rely on interaction and dynamics to create engagement. At times they have had to dismiss youths who became unruly and a threat to the progress of the group. Under certain circumstances, they still give youths a second chance, but their first priority is toward the development and success of the larger group.
SANKOFA serves a significant number of students from dysfunctional families that face a myriad of social barriers. Some youth are homeless, known as "couch surfers." Program leaders are working to connect these students with various services and resources through an organization known as the Hall County Community Collaborative. Such services can include assistance with college costs or even a car loan.
They also are working to create "Summer SANKOFA," a program to target youths on probation or in pre-adjudication. The goal of this program is to address youth who don’t respond to the program during the school year and to provide the program in the summer, a time when youth seem more vulnerable to gang involvement.
Contact: Bill Brennan
Grant Development Coordinator
Return to search.