published Sunday, June 29th, 2014

4 groups vying for Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative job

A soon-to-be master's graduate, a veteran pastor, the head of a long-term counseling firm and the director of an established faith-based nonprofit all want to be the new face of Mayor Andy Berke's initiative to reduce shootings and killings.

It's been three weeks since the city ousted Richard Bennett, director of A Better Tomorrow, which until then had been expected to be chosen as community leader for the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative.

Now officials are on the verge of choosing another provider.

That organization will be responsible for finding jobs, education and housing options for the gang members selected to be a part of VRI and then monitor each criminal case. The provider is expected to have at least three years' experience in this type of work.

One applicant is Paul Green, director of Hope for the Inner City. He's already been tapped for a key role in helping young men with criminal records between 18 and 25 find jobs and vocational skills. The city is going to pay him $75,000 and he is asking for $270,000 to expand his role.

Lacie Stone, the mayor's spokeswoman, said each group will be rated by Police Chief Fred Fletcher along with several members of the mayor's office and police department. Two applicants will be interviewed before a decision is made.

Some local leaders say Bennett -- who was arrested June 6 in a van with a woman, his pants unzipped and alcohol and drugs in the vehicle -- will be hard to replace. Bennett had come from the streets and had earned respect for his ability to help youths in trouble turn their lives around.

A representative for a Hope for the Inner City, which is across the street from the former Harriet Tubman public housing site, said the ministry has offered East Chattanooga young people a second chance and earned respect within the community.

"We are connected to a network of churches," said Dennis Clark, a public relations consultant for the nonprofit. "We have a longstanding relationship with the Harriet Tubman area."

Other local groups say they deserve a chance to be involved and use their skills to reach more troubled teens.

Jennifer Jackson, director of Tennessee Community Counseling Services, said she hopes to use the company's mental health, drug and alcohol treatment to rehabilitate those in the VRI program. She is asking for $264,400 to head the program.

"The biggest strength my company has is we can figure out individual needs under one roof," she said. "If an individual has a difficult time to get a job, they can take a class on how to present themselves and seek out employment, or what about drug or alcohol addiction, anger problems, even parenting issues."

Paula Wilson, who's looking to found a company, Altruistic ADR Services, in July, said she has been trying to get more involved with VRI since she heard about it, but hasn't found a way in the door. From church programs to prison ministries, she's worked with criminals and is about to earn her master's degree in conflict resolution. She is asking for $300,000.

"As a Chattanooga resident since 1987 I have lived through a lot of Chattanooga's most admirable stories and some of its most violently horrific," she wrote in her proposal. "We have the opportunity to somehow pull together to rise from this like we rose to tell of our revitalization downtown."

Another new program is Impact1, led by longtime pastor Wayne Moody, who is asking for $138,725.

His program started in June with seven men. He is teaching vocational and job skills but he said each person has different needs. He admits he is new to the work, but said he has been effective so far.

"We know we're the new kids on the block but we wanted to at least get some exposure," Moody said.

When asked whether the city would reconsider working with Bennett, whose organization locals say has changed the lives of hundreds of inner-city teens, Stone said he didn't submit a bid.

He is due in court for his first appearance on Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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