Father to the Fatherless says it's here to stay

Councilman Anthony Byrd speaks during a meeting about the Violence Reduction Initiative in the City Council Building on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The meeting, allowing the public to share their opinions on the VRI, was put together by Councilman Byrd.

The city of Chattanooga may not have any money flowing toward support services for the Violence Reduction Initiative, but the nonprofit organization that has been quarterbacking many of those efforts for the last two years says it's not going anywhere.

April Boozer, executive director of Father to the Fatherless, said Friday morning her organization will continue its work on a volunteer basis after the Chattanooga City Council declined to rubber-stamp a $600,000 contract with it last month.

"We're still working. We are committed to the kids because we've had a lot of questions as to whether we're going to continue working and what have you, but our biggest commitment is, of course, to the kids and their families," Boozer said. "We want to continue to be consistent in their lives and provide the services and the resources that they're needing."

F2F was the city's pick from just two organizations that responded to requests for proposals when Mayor Andy Berke's administration decided to refocus the VRI on steering young men away from gang violence rather than trying to rehabilitate them after they've built up criminal records.

But when presented with the new F2F contract in January, city council members torpedoed it by declining to vote, saying their repeated questions and information requests hadn't been satisfactorily answered.

That decision came as a surprise both to the mayor's office and Boozer, who said F2F took all the necessary steps.

"I just know that there's a process that we went through as far as filling out the proposal. I believe that we fulfilled the requirements that the city was asking. For whatever reason, the city council chose not to vote, and that's as much as I know," she said.

In the wake of the city council's decision, Councilman Anthony Byrd held a community meeting Thursday night in which community members agreed the VRI needs big changes and a bigger budget.

He proposed that the city open its coffers to kick in $1 million for VRI support services and said he'd push Hamilton County government to match those funds. He also said the money should be distributed among tutors, mentors and street-level programs that work daily to keep young people from descending into gang activity, drugs and violence.

Troy Rogers, the city's public safety coordinator, spoke out passionately at Thursday's meeting, arguing that the community needs to figure out a path forward because the lives of children are at stake. On Friday, he heaped praise on F2F, saying the organization took a holistic approach to providing support services.

"F2F is an exemplary example of what it truly means to be committed and to address the needs of the community. We commend their work and hope to continue working with them. Their work in the community has extraordinary and unheralded depth," Rogers wrote in an emailed statement.

"Whether it has been their presence in six schools doing the preventative work of mentoring, work that is often an intervention as well or partnering with a variety of community organizations to address a conglomeration of needs, F2F has been a committed partner and resource to the community."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.