Roanoke Gun Violence Panel Selects Nonprofits For Grants, Focusing on Northwest Youth

Commissioners said probing from City Council resulted in the quick turnaround time between grant announcement and project completion.

Elliott Major, a member of the city's Gun Violence Prevention Commission, discusses grant funding with Vice Mayor Joe Cobb and other commissioners at Jan. 12 meeting. PHOTO BY LINDSEY HULL FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER 

Members of Roanoke’s Gun Violence Prevention Commission have identified which local nonprofits should share in $300,000 worth of grants, following dubious questions from City Council about how they would decide which organizations most deserved the money.

The commission voted Tuesday to award grants to 16 local nonprofits and agencies that would mostly serve youth in Northwest Roanoke.

Projects included a boxing program from BoxFit, a literacy program, a firearm buyback, family counseling, and outdoor excursions for youth from Apple Ridge Farm.

“All of these programs are collaborative in nature,” Vice Mayor Joe Cobb, who chairs the commission, said at Tuesday's meeting. “All of them are working collaboratively with other organizations, very intentionally on site in some of the hottest spots of violence in our community.”

Commissioners spent about five hours last week discussing the merits of projects proposed by 29 organizations, which submitted applications totaling $712,000, according to a handout at the meeting Friday.

Grant money must be spent by the end of June in keeping with American Rescue Plan Act requirements. Announced Dec. 6, the latest grant cycle closed Dec. 31.

Commissioners said probing from City Council — which has butted heads with the commission over the last year— resulted in the quick turnaround time between grant announcement and project completion.

“Part of the holdup on this one was [that] we were waiting for City Council to approve, making sure that the way that we were evaluated and handling things was consistent with other committees and commissions that award grants,” commissioner Tim Harvey said.

The commission’s decision-making in the first round of grants prompted a city audit that found no fraud or abuse but did find deficiencies in how city staff tracked money given to nonprofits.

The nine-person citizen board has three vacancies following resignations from commissioners who cited Council politics as at least one factor in their decisions to step down. (Late Tuesday, Council appointed Catherine Koebel and Rev. Amy Hodge to fill two of those vacancies.)

Commissioners individually scored applications on a 100-point scale according to a set of criteria, which included whether applicants could spend the funds by a June 30 deadline, the location of the program, and number of people served, according to Harvey.

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Based on commissioners’ average grades, scores in the 90s would receive 90 percent of their requested funding; scores in the 80s, 80 percent; and scores in the 70s, 65 percent.

Harvey said he gave more weight to applicants who could most quickly implement a program for the greatest number of people.

As the applicant with the highest score, FEDUP with Gun Violence — which supports families who have lost loved ones — would receive 100 percent of its $30,000 ask.

In requested proposals, the commission sought programs with a focus on youth development, mental health and well-being, trauma-informed counseling, and victim services and outreach, among others, according to a city press release.

Roanoke ended the year with 28 people killed, mostly by firearms, the highest figure in decades. While youth have predominantly been affected in years past, city police have seen more shootings among adults recently.

Councilman Peter Volosin said earlier this month that the commission may want to “tweak the system as we’re going through it” to address that violence.

“I was hopeful, just frankly, that we would have seen some adult-oriented conflict resolution models in what was proposed, but we didn’t,” Cobb said. “That may be a gap that we need to look at as a city and how we deliver that kind of a resource for organizations.”

Police Chief Scott Booth, however, said at Tuesday’s commission meeting that last year’s prevalence of adult interpersonal violence was an “anomaly.”

“The youth violence, in my mind, continues to be the driver,” Booth said. “I don’t know what was going on in Roanoke in 2023.”

Henri Gendreau contributed reporting to this story.

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