Progress Report: Safe, Equitable, and Thriving Communities Task Force

On April 24, 2016, the Cedar Rapids Gazette published the following progress report from Stacey and Mary Wilcynski, Co-Chairs of the Set, Equitable, and Thriving Communities Task Force:

“In the wake of the gun violence last fall that claimed the life of 15-year-old Aaron Richardson, community leaders came together to discuss a comprehensive response that would focus on the systemic causes of gun violence and poverty, with hopes their work would make a lasting impact on the community.

As a result, the Safe, Equitable, and Thriving Communities Task Force was born in January. The SET Task Force is a multi-jurisdictional committee charged with addressing the systemic causes of poverty and gun violence in the Linn County area.

Co-chaired by former Kennedy High School Principal Mary Wilcynski and community leader Stacey Walker, the 19-member Task Force plans to present recommendations on poverty, gun violence and related challenges in our city, district and county no later than 2017.

Today we present an update from each of the six subcommittees we have formed.

We’re proud to report the work of the task force is off to a great start. Though we realize one task force alone cannot fully resolve all the causes and devastating effects of gun violence, poverty and related issues in a single year, we believe our recommendations will provide a starting point for longer-term solutions.

Already we have forged promising new partnerships across industries and organizations. The unsung leaders in our most troubled neighborhoods finally have a platform from which to voice their thoughts. The difficult, nuanced work of community-building has just begun.


Chaired by Paul Hayes, the director of Learning Supports for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, the education subcommittee is forming a plan to close the achievement gap for our students grades K-12, specifically students of color. In addition, the subcommittee will work to establish more thoughtful, responsive approaches to students who have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences.

These goals aim to minimize risk factors that lead to violence, delinquency and truancy, and enhance our most vulnerable students’ odds to complete high school and pursue further education.

Economic Opportunities

Chaired by Dr. Carlos Grant, Principal at Metro High School and incoming Executive Director of Personalized Learning and Middle Level Education, the Economic Opportunities Subcommittee has begun to examine barriers to economic opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed citizens in our most underserved communities. A partnership between Kirkwood Community College and Iowa Workforce Development exists, in which both organizations work with any willing job-seeker to help them earn their HiSet, create a resume, develop “soft” career skills and assist in the job search process. These services will be available to applicants regardless of their criminal history.


Chaired by retired law enforcement professional Gary Hinzman, the law enforcement and public safety subcommittee will examine how to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the broader community and unify community stakeholders’ efforts to reduce gun violence. In addition, this subcommittee will proctor a survey to area youth to hear their views on myriad topics, such as gun violence, school safety and perceptions of law enforcement professionals. This subcommittee hopes to balance their work between suppression of crime and restorative justice.


Co-chaired by community leader and real estate developer Dale Todd, with realtor, educator, and community leader Akwi Nji, the housing subcommittee seeks to investigate correlations between housing policies and poverty.

This subcommittee is comprised of developers, neighborhood association representatives, landlords, city housing policy experts, social workers and other stakeholders with a vested interest in seeing our troubled neighborhoods become safer and more equitable.


Co-chaired by Jane Boyd Executive Director Dorice Ramsey, LBA Foundation Executive Director Alphonce O’Bannon and Boys & Girls Clubs of Cedar Rapids Executive Director John Tursi, the programming subcommittee will conduct a comprehensive audit of non-profit programs and related services across the community. We plan to categorize and publish a comprehensive list of those programs and services. Through the audit, we will be able to see gaps in services and opportunities to enhance programming in the most high-demand areas.


Co-chaired by the Executive Director of Horizons Family Service Alliance, Karl Cassell, and Associate Superintendent of Cedar Rapids Community Schools, Trace Pickering, this subcommittee has partnered with the United Way of East Central Iowa, The Gazette Companies, the Iowa BIG School and other organizations to create the SET Community Voices project.

The project seeks to discover generative community-building methods and elicit input from a range of outside groups. The project will not only solicit feedback from the broader community for the task force, but it also will collect and share stories of real Linn County residents. For example, the Iowa BIG School’s Maya Gonlubol has created a Humans of Cedar Rapids Facebook page, modeled upon the Humans of New York project started by Brandon Stanton in 2010.

This project will feature stories of many Cedar Rapidians, with the hopes that each story can foster a greater sense of fellowship, unity and humanity to our community.


This piece only highlights the work we the task force intend to accomplish for our community, but none of our efforts can succeed without buy-in from the residents of Linn County. With the commitment from the Cedar Rapids City Council, the endorsements from the Cedar Rapids Schools and Linn County Board of Supervisors, and the support of the people in Linn County we can develop a thoughtful and significant picture of our community’s needs and our community’s resources.

Further, this work may take decades to unfold completely, and we will have to wait years for measurable data to study some of our solutions in-depth. With that said, it is all of our responsibility to move toward progress now, to start the conversation. For it is not ourselves who will most benefit from the work of this Task Force — it is our future children and grandchildren, and their future children, and they are worth fighting for.”

See the full column in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

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