Local counties recommended for ‘Safe Communities’ accreditation

Published 10:10 am Saturday, December 9, 2017

After about two years of work and planning, the Safe Communities Coalition of Central Kentucky was recommended for accreditation by Safe Communities America.

“These last two days have been wonderful,” said Suja Shunmugavelu, program manager with Safe Communities America, on Thursday.

(Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com)
Eric Mount, community volunteer with the Boyle County Safe Communities Task Force, explains the role the community took in standing up against the proposed pipeline changes to members of Safe Communities America on Thursday.

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Shunmugavelu said she “got chills” and was “inspired” by the work being done in Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties.

“It’s the commitment — all four task forces’ commitment — to your community and the passion that you guys have for the work that you do,” she said.

The Safe Communities Coalition of Central Kentucky was born in late 2015, although it was January 2016 before a name was chosen. The coalition’s lead agency is the Heart of Kentucky United Way, with Director Stephanie Blevins, and the moderator is Rollin Tarter.

Out of the coalition, which serves Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties, four task forces were formed — one per county — bringing in civic and community leaders, along with volunteers. The goal is working together to make a safer community for everyone.

Over the two-day period, Shunmugavelu and Becky Turpin, the second reviewer from Safe Communities America, met with school leaders, church leaders, civic leaders, emergency personnel and a slew of community volunteers, who shared about the things the community has been doing together to create a stronger region.

(Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com)
Becky Turpin, with Safe Communities America, right, speaks with Burt Piper, Boyle County task force leader, left, and Rollin Tarter, moderator of the Safe Communitites Coalition of Central Kentucky on Wednesday

The work being done across the areas is “sustainable” Shunmugavelu said.

“Even though it’s a four-county approach, it does feel like one community … It’s wonderful,” she said.

Each county has their own personality, which was noticeable in the visits, Turpin said.

The task forces in each county are at different stages, the reviewers said, but are focusing on how to work together to make the region better.

“You support each other. There are obvious consistencies,” Shunmugavelu said, pointing to syringe exchange programs in place. “There are incredible growth opportunities for the entire coalition.”

Turpin and Shunmugavelu said there could be more sharing across the counties, such as one task force leader visiting another task force to share how they are handling a certain problem that might benefit the different counties.

(Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com)
Danville Independent Schools Superintendent Keith Look talks about the district to community leaders and representatives from Safe Communities America on Wednesday.

Noting each task force’s strengths and “growth opportunities,” they explained what they had observed from the four counties that make up the Safe Communities Coalition of Central Kentucky.

In Boyle County, for example, they said, it was “incredible” that the county was focusing on the complete person, pointing to the information heard regarding schools, the Boyle County Detention Center and workplaces.

“This acknowledgment of trauma and how trauma affects behavior and an individual’s health and safety — I am hearing more and more about it,” Shunmugavelu said.

“I don’t feel we’ve heard it at this level,” Turpin said.

Shunmugavelu agreed, calling it “significant.”

“The work that you’re doing, you’re looking upstream. A lot of times, we look at the narrow things or issues and say, ‘We’re going to solve it one way.’ But you’re looking upstream. You didn’t stop at needle exchanges and drop boxes. You’re looking at employment and how that’s affects a person’s housing and safety. We want to commend you on that. That’s huge,” Shunmugavelu said. “I do believe that’s where public health needs to go.”

Including faith-based groups in the discussion and as part of the solution is also important, she said.

“The mentality is a ‘we’ mentality,” she said.

They said it was important for the Boyle County task force to remember to take a look at what the larger impact is going to be from the changes being implemented in the community. Currently, Turpin said, they’re not even sure how to evaluate the collective impact, but they plan to do some research and send ideas back to the local coalition.

“You’re in a good position,” Shunmugavelu said. “The reason we don’t have the solutions? We haven’t experienced this before.”

“People aren’t usually at that point,” Turpin said.

Their reviews of the task forces in Lincoln, Garrard and Mercer were also promising:

• They were impressed with Lincoln County’s capacity to fundraise so quickly and easily for things the county needs;

• Garrard County was big into evidence-based programs and was moving into new territory with their “lending closet,” which allows walkers and medical equipment to be turned in if after it’s no longer needed and given out for free to someone who needs it later;

• Mercer County “stood out” for being able to create a syringe exchange program first, and then turned that around to help the other counties pass their respective programs, and because they are working to find the gaps and the duplicated efforts in serving the community.

(Kendra Peek/kendra.peek@amnews.com)
Suja Shunmugavelu, program manager with Safe Communities America, speaks to community leaders Wednesday morning regarding the accreditation of the Safe Communities Coalition of Central Kentucky.

Turpin said the communication between the task forces with the larger coalition is “impressive.”

Shunmugavelu said a four-county evaluation might be something good to consider and it might be another opportunity to engage students in the local colleges to help with the evaluations.

They also recommended more communication with other coalitions around the state.

“No other state has this level of statewide collaboration that Kentucky has,” Shunmugavelu said. “There’s so much that can be shared in this state, so much more growth and momentum.”

Shunmugavelu and Turpin will complete a report to send to the local coalition in the coming weeks.