Kristan Lundquist: How Community Centers Build Peace

Article: How community centers build peaceThis interview was conducted for the Salinas Californian by CASP Volunteer Rachel Vallarta Davidson. You can find the full video interview here.

Building relationships. It sounds so simple, but it can make all the difference to a child, a family and the whole community -- especially by reducing violence. So says Kristan Lundquist, who knows first-hand through her work with the City’s five neighborhood centers as a Community Service Manager.

In the following interview, Lundquist opens the doors to those centers, and makes the case that by building relationships, we can prevent violence from entering children’s lives in the first place.

What happens at the community centers?

For example, the Hebbron Family Center on Fremont Street really has become a neighborhood hub. We have a variety of programs each month, and over 151 different activities.

We’re working with early literacy, and we have a Tiny Tot program for children ages three to five, where they’re learning those colors, numbers – kindergarten readiness curriculum.

We have an after school program, where we’re offering a variety of enrichment and recreational opportunities for youth ages five all the way to 18.

We have a really strong teen program there. They’re involved in a lot of community service. The teens there have a variety of interests, but they’re there to interact with positive mentors, they’re playing video games, pool -- kind of all that fun, hanging out type stuff in their own little space.

We also have a variety of community organizations that utilize the space. We have Citizenship Project classes that are held there Monday through Thursday, we have other groups like A Time for Grieving And Healing [a group for parents of children lost to violence], and [the County Department of] Behavioral Health has some programs there as well.

It’s also the hub for the community-wide violence reduction plan that is a City of Salinas and CASP [Community Alliance for Safety and Peace] effort, and really does a lot of great work addressing wrap-around services for youth and families.

What do you see as the value of a place like Hebbron?

I think it really is a family-centered space. We really do work to create that family bonding opportunity. You walk into that center and every inch of the building is being used at a different point during the day.

We’re really trying to create a neighborhood effort, which I think helps introduce the different residents to other neighbors within their community. Another thing we do with CASP and other folks is block parties. And that whole thing is really just to get people to build relationships with their neighbors, which is going to increase safety in the community. You’re going to know who your neighbors are, you’re going to know if you see something suspicious, and you just build that trust among people.

They know if they have a question about almost anything they can come to the Center and we’re going to direct them to whatever resources they need. They know it’s a safe place for their kids. It embodies that family environment. That’s really what we do: we build relationships in the community.

We hear in the news about that small fraction of the population that is creating havoc, doing violent acts and taking the wrong path, but at the same time there are so many good things. Just this last year we have two or three kids that have gone on to UC’s.

I don’t have my own kids, but I look at these as all my kids. I love to work with these kids.

The community just needs to be empowered and have resources, because they’re the key, and our youth are the ones that really in the long run are going to make a difference and change the climate of Salinas.

And let’s be honest, a lot of families in this community, it’s not that they’re trying to neglect their children, they have to work multiple jobs just to put food on the table, and so they’re not always available to do those family things.

How does all this fit into the CASP violence reduction strategy?

I think it’s critical. We talk about the PIER model, which is Prevention, Intervention, Enforcement and Re-entry. Prevention is just as critical as public safety. If we aren’t moving the needle evenly among all those areas, we’re never going to make a difference.

The challenge I see is it’s so hard to measure success in prevention. I can tell you I have 50 kids at the Breadbox [recreation center] on a Saturday evening. They’re not getting into trouble, they’re not potential perpetrators of violence, or potential victims. But it’s not the same as that life and death, public safety end of things.

But when you look at the cost to provide prevention services, you get so much for bang for your buck -- it just costs less. Without those prevention programs showing youth and families other opportunities and helping with basic things, we’re going to continue to have the problem.

I’ve been involved with CASP for a long time and that’s what I really like about this organization – the fact that there’s value to all levels of the PIER model. We can’t do it alone, everybody has to do their part.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rachel Vallarta Davidson is a student at UCLA, an intern with marketing communications firm Boots Road Group LLC, and a volunteer with the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace and its For Our Future / Para Nuestro Futuro campaign.

News Item Publication Date: 
Saturday, November 16, 2013