Non-Profit Spotlight : Rock Safe Streets
Rock Safe Streets is a Cure Violence Initiative that strives to reduce gun violence in Far Rockaway. Cure Violence is an informed health model that was founded by Dr. Gary Slutkin in 2000. Recognized as an innovator in violence prevention, Dr. Slutkin sees the issue of violence as fundamentally misdiagnosed and applied lessons learned from more than a decade fighting epidemics in Africa and Asia to the creation of a public health model to reduce violence through behavior change and disease control methods. Cure Violence came to New York City in 2010 and there are now 18 Cure Violence sites throughout the five boroughs. In neighborhoods like Far Rockaway, the practices embodied in Cure Violence’s work are vital in that they prioritize community involvement, psychological healing and professional development, and provide realistic pathways to achieve and sustain these goals. Last month, the Rockaway Advocate had the opportunity to sit down with Rock Safe Streets’ Program Manager Rosalyn Mason to talk about the great work Rock Safe Streets is doing to help young people in Far Rockaway create a safer future for their community.
Prior to working at Rock Safe Streets, Rosalyn had a job where she worked with individuals suffering from mental illness. Having lived in Rockaway for many years, Rosalyn’s drive to help those around her extends beyond her professional life. Even before joining Rock Safe Streets’ staff, she had often engaged in conflict mediation between community members and local youth struggling with gang violence. For Rosalyn, developing individual relationships with young people that recognize and support their particular needs is key to the success of the Cure Violence model. She maintains that although Rockaway offers many different social services for young people in Rockaway, it is often only through this kind of individualized support that young people actually utilize the services that are available to them. She says, “the resources really do help - of course they do, but at the end of the day I feel like the relationship bridges the gap and it makes the young person now want to express the fact that they need help or express what they even wanna do once you build a relationship.” Rosalyn encourages young people to investigate and take advantage of the many resources and social services that Rockaway has to offer at places like Workforce1, Urban Upbound, the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation (RDRC), and the Ocean Bay Community Development Center. Sheltering Arms, Rock Safe Streets’ parent organization, offers many other services as well, including mental health services, early childhood services, and after school programs at several local schools.
Rosalyn points to homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse as the top three issues facing the young people that Rock Safe Streets works with. She says that lack of housing and youth homelessness in particular is a growing issue that needs to be addressed. She remarked, “There are a lot of tricky ways in which young people really wind up being homeless and then now, what do they really do? Because the population of young people becoming homeless is growing. So I really think that housing is a very big issue, and I really think that that’s something that needs to change. Some way or another we need to have more better and more appropriate housing for our runaway youth.” Rock Safe Streets staff and leadership also work hard to counter the negative stigmas associated with mental illness or seeking treatment for mental illness, though she admits that this is one of the more challenging aspects of her job. “A lot of our kids need mental health services,” she says. “That has been kind of a challenge trying to help them understand that it’s okay to receive help for what you need, so that this way it can put you on the right track and this way you can begin to sustain yourself. The help is just a stepping stone, to help you get grounded, to make you reach the next step.” Still, Rosalyn points out that it is rare that young people facing mental health issues will seek out the help they need on their own unless they know that there is someone there for them who will support them in getting that help and point them in the right direction.
Some of the organization’s biggest accomplishments include contributing to a 98% reduction in shootings from a previous spike that showed record high levels of gun violence in Far Rockaway. Another huge accomplishment is their high levels of goal achievement amongst their membership, including obtaining and sustaining employment and maintaining consistent housing. Many of their members have also earned their GED or their high school equivalency or diploma while involved with Rock Safe Streets. When asked what advice she has for young people in Rockaway, Rosalyn replied, “Open up your eyes and take advantage of the services you have in front of you, and also realize that life is too short, and I know that it can be hard at times, but you really gotta think before you react.”
Rock Safe Streets is currently planning a Hold Hands Around Rockaway event in June for gun violence awareness month, where community members will link hands and encircle the area between Beach 49th Street and Beach 59th Street, where gun violence is most concentrated in Rockaway. Rock Safe Streets will also be hosting their Peace Fest, their annual signature event, in June, and their Beach Fest in August. For more information regarding upcoming events or to get involved, please visit the Rock Safe Streets office at 43-11 Beach Channel Drive.